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US cyclists apologize for wearing masks

Aug. 06, 2008, 6:56 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING(AP) A group of American cyclists has apologized to Beijing Olympic organizers after arriving in China's capital wearing face masks.

Michael Friedman, Sarah Hammer, Bobby Lea and Jennie Reed released a statement Wednesday, a day after they caused a stir by showing up in the protective gear.

``The wearing of protective masks upon our arrival into Beijing was strictly a precautionary measure we as athletes chose to take, and was in no way meant to serve as an environmental or political statement,'' the cyclists said. ``We deeply regret the nature of our choices. Our decision was not intended to insult BOCOG or countless others who have put forth a tremendous amount of effort to improve the air quality in Beijing.''

The host city's air remains a concern with the start of the games approaching. Beijing has put into effect long-planned pollution-control measures, such as taking cars off the streets.

Jim Scherr, the U.S. Olympic Committee's chief executive officer, said his group didn't ask the cyclists to apologize.

``Those athletes regret that action and have written an apology to BOCOG on their own behalf,'' Scherr said. ``They now realize and understand how their actions were perceived by the host nation and by the organizing committee.''

Scherr said masks have been issued to national governing bodies that requested them.

``I understand that about 200 of our athletes received those masks through the national governing body, not directly from the U.S. Olympic Committee,'' Scherr said. ``Hopefully they won't have to use them.''

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