BEIJING — It didn't take long for the first hurt feelings of the 2008

Beijing Olympics — and the resulting first diplomatic apology — and this with the opening ceremonies still a couple of days away.

Four members of the United States Olympic team — all cyclists — wore

protective masks as they arrived Tuesday at Beijing's Capital International

Airport.

Their arrival was filmed by news crews and repeatedly shown on televised

newscasts and Olympic updates that day and Wednesday, with the Chinese

taking offense at what they considered an insult to their efforts of trying

to be gracious hosts.

The four — Michael Friedman, Sarah Hammer, Bobby Lea and Jennie Reed — released a collective statement Wednesday in attempts to stifle the hard

feelings.

"Following our arrival on Tuesday, we offer our sincere apologies to

BOCOG, the city of Beijing and the people of China if our actions were in

any way offensive. That was not our intent," they said in their statement

released through the United States Olympic Committee.

They went on to say their wearing of the masks was merely a precautionary

measure and not an environmental or political statement.

"We deeply regret the nature of our choices," the statement continued.

"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.

"We look forward to putting this incident behind us while we prepare for

our competition next week," they concluded.