Ms Michelle Obama played a little tennis with kids, handed out some hugs and posed for photos with strapping athletes today as she formally began her stint leading the US Olympics delegation.

The US first lady told a crowd of young people that the Summer Games are about more than just gold medals but also urged US athletes in London to strive to claim top prizes all the same.

“Try to have fun. Try to breathe a little bit,” Ms Obama told American athletes at a breakfast in east London near the Olympic Park.

Ms Obama, who said she was “just in awe” of their company, told the athletes that some of her fondest sports memories stemmed from watching the Olympics on television.

She shared the story of her father, who was athletic but contracted multiple sclerosis “in the prime of his life.”

“He retained his love of sports, truly,” Ms Obama said. “And the Olympics were a special time for him to watch amazing athletes of all abilities competes on the world stage.”

Among the Olympians attending were two-time fencing gold medalist Mariel Zagunis, who will carry the nation’s flag into the opening ceremony, along with the US women’s basketball team and track and field members.

“Being here is otherworldly for me,” the first lady said.

“I am still so inspired.”

Later, she was scheduled to attend a reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace and then go to the London Olympics opening ceremony.

On the vast lawn of Winfield House, the residence of the US ambassador to Britain, Ms Michelle Obama also joined some 1,000 children many from US military families based in Britain and others from underprivileged London neighbourhoods at a sports carnival.

“I’m so excited,” she told the children as a marching band played the University of Florida fight song.

The first lady shared the stage with a host of sports stars, including England’s ex-soccer captain David Beckham and US gold medal winners Carl Lewis, Summer Sanders and Brandi Chastain.

Ms Obama told the children to draw encouragement from athletes like gymnast Shawn Johnson who once considered quitting and from Paralympian Gabe Diaz de Leon, an army veteran who trained to compete in the discus, shot put and javelin after he was paralyzed on operations in Honduras.

“The stories of these athletes remind us that being an Olympian is not just about winning gold or setting a record.

It’s about pushing yourself and believing in you and refusing to give up,” she told the children. “No matter what obstacles you face, keep pushing.”

(This article was published on July 27, 2012)
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