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World Olympians Meet in Beijing

A group of world famous Olympians joined Chinese Olympic champions yesterday at a gala dinner in Beijing to celebrate the upcoming International Olympic Day on June 23.

The dinner was given at the century-old gardenesque Prince Jun's Palace located in Chaoyang Park, where Beijing bid committee have planned to hold the beach volleyball tournament for the Games. It is only 15 minutes drive from the planned Olympic Park where a majority of events will be held.

"Though we arrived here only last night, we still had a little bit of time to walk around. I was impressed by the city, it is better than we had thought," said Henni Onodi of Hungary, an Olympic gymnastics champion in Barcelona.

The other world Olympians present included Leroy Burrell, a former world-renowned record holder in the 100-meter dash, Dick Fosbury who won the high jump at the 1968 Olympics and Michelle Finn Burrell who won the women's 4X100meter relay in Barcelona Games Beijing Mayor Liu Qi announced at the ceremony that palace would serve as the Olympian Reunion Center if Beijing wins the right to host the 2008 Games.

"It will have 60 rooms and will house close-circuit television programming for all Olympic events. And cultural events, entertainment, a multilingual interpretation service, postal services, medical center and ticket services are all planned for this facility," said Liu.

"During the Games, free public transportation will be provided to all the Olympians and regular shuttle bus service between the Palace and Olympic venues will be available," Liu added.

"On the eve of the International Olympic Day, we presented this special gift to all the Olympians in the world," Liu said of the palace which dated back to the year of 1881.

Liston Bochette, secretary general of the World Olympians Assocation, also said that there could be no better place to celebrate the Olympic Day than the palace in this city.

"It is one of the finest facility we ever have," said Bochette. "it is a reflection of the Chinese culture and an extension of welcome."

"To put it frankly, we are very pleased that Beijing is committed and understand the value of the Olympians, including competing athletes as well as those who have retired," said Bochette, a three-time Olympian for the Puerto Rican bobsled team.

"What we see here is the embracement of the Olympians. We are very pleased with that," he added.

It is the first time for Bochette to visit China which he described his impression with a word "surprise".

"It is like a birthday present. You always don't know what is in the package, and feel happy when you open it," he said.

At the ceremony, Xu Haifeng, a shooter who won the first Olympic gold for China, also read a letter to the International Olympic Committee on behalf of all the Chinese Olympic champions which totalled 86 since 1984.

"We firmly believe that Beijing could organise an excellent Games, and it will leave a unique legacy to China and sport.

"We would also tell all athletes in the world that Beijing will provide the best conditions for you to compete," said the letter.

(People's Daily 06/20/2001)