Charles Lee is the Chef de Mission of the American delegation to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Back in 1984, he was the special envoy to persuade China to participate in the Los Angeles Olympic Games, when it was faced a boycott led by the then Soviet Union. In an exclusive interview with our Washington correspondent Shanshan, Charles Lee recounts the history of that unforgettable experience, saying China has transformed the 1984 Olympic Games.
The call Charles Lee will never forget was the one he made to Peter Ueberroth from Beijing on May 12, 1984. Peter Ueberroth, chairman of the Olympic Committee of the United States, was the leader of the organizing committee of the Los Angeles Games in 1984. Over the phone, Lee told Ueberroth that "they are coming", which means China confirmed to participate in the Los Angeles Games. That moment stays with them still.
"I talked to Peter Uberroth recently, and he said if China would not come, that might be the end of the Olympics."
Back in 1984, Soviet Union announced on May 8 that their team would not go to Los Angeles because of fears for their athletes' safety, supposedly in a bid to retaliate for the Untied States' decision to stay away from the 1980 Moscow Games. Charles Lee says what they were told was that China was in the boycott.
"Soviet Union had a boycott against the Los Angeles Olympic Games and it anticipated around 100 countries would join in. It told Peter Ueberroth that China was going to boycott as well".
It was only two months to go before the opening ceremony of the Los Angeles Games when Peter Ueberroth got the announcement from Soviet Union. His response was to assemble a team of envoys who could appeal to officials in undecided countries and persuade them to participate. Charles Lee, a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles at that time, was working on the organizing committee's bylaws. Ueberroth knows he speaks fluent Mandarin and asked him to go to China. Ueberroth himself went to Cuba. Ueberroth was unable to sway Cuba, but Lee's visit to China brought good news to the Games.
"I got the impression very early that they were coming. What I wanted to accomplish was to make sure China was coming. If they were coming, please give us a letter saying that. People in China were very nice and gracious to us and ultimately they did give the letter, which was a wonderful thing. Mr. Uberroth said China saved the 1984 Games. China was very supportive to the US when it came to the LA Olympics in 1984, which was a tremendous gift to the LA Olympics and the Olympic movement. I'm great indebted and appreciative of them doing that."
Charles Lee says the Los Angeles Games turned out to be successful, with an unprecedented participation of over 140 countries. He believes China has decided the fate the Games.
"China is obviously a very big country. Everybody was very interested in China. China played a very pivotal role. And I think once China did not boycott and agree to come, that really took a lot of the air of the boycott tribe. In the end, 14 countries boycotted, but they are very small and had very small teams anyway. Peter Ueberroth thinks and says that China saved the Olympics in LA."
As the special envoy to China, Charles Lee went to the airport to greet the Chinese delegation and accompanied them all the way in Los Angeles. He still remembers the huge cheer the Chinese team received at the opening ceremony.
"It was one of the heart-warming and wonderful events as I recall. I was at the opening ceremony when the China team marched in, they had wild reception. They received standing ovation from the crowd. Everybody here was very excited about China coming. I think it's very good when you can that kind of direct people to people showing of emotion, friendship and support. "
Lee has established friendship with Chinese athletes. When a few gymnasts asked to meet some American children, Lee brought them to play with his two daughters. He still cherishes the picture of that meeting. He says Chinese team did a good job at the Games.
"This was their first Olympics. They had some tremendous athletes. Li Ning was on the team. It would be a tremendous blow if China had not come. China had some world-class athletes. I knew their gymnasts were quite good. I thought they did very well, it was their first Olympics, they got a number of gold medals".
Charles Lee's association with China has continued to this day. Next month, he will lead the US delegation to Beijing, as the Chef de Mission of the delegation. He says he's very excited to see China having come full circle as host of the Olympics after its key role in 1984. With regard to some political issues being related to the Beijing Olympics, Lee expresses his opinion based on his own experience.
"Boycott never serves any purpose. The only thing a boycott does is to harm innocent athletes. So I think boycotts are completely worthless."
Charles Lee says he will go to every event to cheer for American athletes, as well as athletes from other countries. He believes his stay in Beijing will be of great fun.
Shanshan, CRI news, Washington.