BEIJING (AP) _ Most days, being the U.S. president means trying to extinguish one blooming crisis after another. Then there are days like Saturday.
Mountain biking on the Olympic course. Getting in a couple of hits with the women’s beach volleyball team. Chuckling after being the target of a softball player’s practical joke. Picking events and knowing he could get in, with a police escort ensuring traffic wasn’t a problem.Â (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
President Bush, a longtime sports fan, was immersing himself into the Olympic spirit with abandon, acting like a kid â€” even when his body was reminding him that he’s 62.
There were also reminders that the world’s troubles follow wherever Bush goes. He was given regular updates after Russia sent columns of tanks and reportedly bombed Georgian air bases Friday after Georgia launched a major military offensive earlier in the day to retake the breakaway province of South Ossetia. The fast-changing hostilities threaten to ignite a broader conflict in the region.
“I’m deeply concerned about the situation in Georgia,” Bush told reporters, adding he was worried about “a dangerous escalation in the crisis” as attacks have spread beyond the main conflict zone, threatening the peace elsewhere in a volatile region.
“We have urged an immediate halt to the violence and a stand-down by all troops,” he said.
Bush also has official business on his agenda Sunday in meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other leaders of the country. He will also attend church and speak about religious freedom, a sensitive matter in China, where the government allows worship only in officially approved churches.
But mostly this was a day for athletics, with Bush brushing off reporters’ attempts to ask him about the Georgia crisis. He even invented his own event, speed-grazing, as he hopped from one sport to another, joking and offering encouragement to U.S. athletes.
After an early wake-up call, the president headed straight to the Laoshan Olympic mountain-biking course, passing iconic Tiananmen Square along the way, as wife Laura went on a tour of the Forbidden City. Bush, a regular biker, had been itching to get back to the course that he tried out with Chinese Olympic hopefuls in 2005 during his last visit to Beijing.
Dressed in a green T-shirt and black shorts, the president biked more than an hour on the course on a warm, muggy, hazy day, accompanied by secret service agents and aides. He dabbed at his face with a towel as he left, then called the course “really, really difficult.”
“That’s why I’m an amateur and they’re Olympians,” Bush added.