The orthodoxies of political correctness will not prevent the tattered, but still intact American flag from the World Trade Center from being raised during the opening ceremonies for the 2002 Winter Olympics -- despite the best efforts of those who view such a gesture as "too political" for the supposedly value-neutral Olympic Games.
When officials of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee broached the idea of incorporating the so-called "Ground Zero flag" into the opening ceremonies as a way of paying tribute to the victims and heroes of September 11, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) dismissed the proposal on the aforesaid "political" grounds. A suggested pre-game ceremony in which a group of U.S. athletes would have carried the flag behind the American delegation during the traditional procession of athletes was ruled out entirely.
Don Mischer, the executive producer of the opening day ceremonies in Salt Lake City, was quoted as follows: "We have to be careful not to focus too much on the United States . . . The world expects an international event that honors winter sport. People in the international community, they view things differently." He also stated that an official with the IOC told him the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles were "so jingoistic" they "hearkened back to the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin," which were presided over by Adolf Hitler -- and that he wanted to avoid the 2002 Winter Games from being viewed that way.
Apparently, such people see no difference between a free nation paying due respect to fallen heroes and making a statement on behalf of humanity -- and a fascist, totalitarian state's over-the-top display of racial and national supremacy.
Luckily for the spirit of the Games -- and for common sense -- saner heads prevailed. The WTC flag will be brought forward during the opening ceremonies, which will include police and firefighters acting as color guards. And it will be raised during the playing of the national anthem.
Anyone who has a problem with that, we shouldn't worry ourselves about.
Barbara Fritchie, rest easy. It looks like that old gray head will not be needed in Utah today after all.
As a result of intense debate and lobbying by U.S. Olympic organizers, the American flag that was flying over the World Trade Center before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 will have a prominent role in the opening of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Potentially far more prominent than appropriate, in fact.
The U.S. Olympic Committee had wanted American athletes to carry the flag in the opening ceremony tonight, when delegations of athletes from around the world parade into Rice-Eccles Stadium. It seemed, and still seems, like a reasonable idea; after all, that is when each delegation displays its nation's colors.
But this is no ordinary flag. Tattered and torn and (except for the number of stars) looking like a relic from a war fought long ago, what has come to be called the World Trade Center flag was rescued from the rubble after the collapse of the twin towers in New York.
It's an extraordinarily potent symbol, and one that would have provided every American with an extra surge of pride when carried into the stadium by members of the U.S. Olympic team.
But International Olympic Committee members nixed the idea because, in essence, they said it was a little too potent. ...
Oddly enough, though, the IOC agreed on Wednesday to a compromise measure, allowing an "honor guard" of "athletes, heroes and policemen" to accompany the flag into the stadium and hoist it as the official flag of the host country. If they wanted to downplay the political and nationalistic implications of bringing the ghost of Sept. 11 into the Games, this is hardly the way to do it.
It would have been far better to treat it as a particularly meaningful American flag amid all the other flags in the opening parade. No policemen, no heroes; just athletes at an athletic competition. That, after all, is what the Olympic spirit is all about.
When the Winter Olympics get under way tonight in Salt Lake City, no one will feel a greater surge of pride than Americans, who in playing host to the world will strive to put on their best face and showcase their best values. As witnessed by the debate over the role the tattered American flag from the World Trade Center should play at the opening ceremonies, there is concern that too much focus on the United States will take away from the international status of the Games--and politicize them. Acting on those concerns, the International Olympic Committee instructed the U.S. committee and local organizers to avoid overt shows of patriotism.
As the result of a 10th-hour agreement, a group of American athletes (and New York City rescue workers) will be permitted to carry into Rice-Eccles Stadium the well-traveled Ground Zero flag--last on display at the Super Bowl--following the athletes' procession. In the past, only the five-ring Olympic flag has been allowed such a high profile. While no one likes being told how much flag-waving is proper, there is a point at which it becomes excessive and loses its meaning. At an event that has its work cut out for it in finding the right balance between hospitality and security--Sept. 11 and memories of the Munich Massacre at the 1972 summer Games fuel the state of high alert--Americans should seek the right balance between patriotic expression and respect for our foreign visitors. And the flag agreement appears to have achieved precisely that balance. ...
For all that, the Olympic spirit is as resilient as ever. When a figure skater carves poetry in the ice or a ski jumper soars majestically through space, all thoughts of money and politics--all thoughts of nations--melt away. Ultimately, it's a universal language being spoken through these sublime physical movements, one that everyone has a real stake in listening to.
When the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics begins this evening, billions of people worldwide will watch as a special honor guard of U.S. athletes and others enter Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, accompanied by the battered Stars and Stripes recovered from the rubble of the World Trade Center.
Deluged by criticism, the International Olympic Committee wisely reversed an earlier decision to prohibit U.S. representatives from marching in the parade of athletes carrying what has become one of the most venerated banners in American history.
The tattered standard, measuring 12 feet by 8 feet, was discovered in the rubble of the World Trade Center three days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Initially scheduled for respectful destruction, the flag instead was handed over to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the owner of the World Trade Center.
Since then, the flag has been displayed at the World Series, at Veterans Day and Thanksgiving Day parades in New York City and, most recently, at the Super Bowl in New Orleans.
Olympic officials initially ruled that allowing the U.S. team to march under the ground zero flag would violate the IOC's prohibition on political displays during the parade of athletes.
Instead, the committee agreed to allow the flag to be raised as the official banner of the United States after the parade of athletes. The IOC's intent was to reinforce the idea that the Games transcend politics and nationality, in order to promote global peace, understanding and cooperation.
But what the IOC didn't consider is that the Sept. 11 attack was experienced not just as an American tragedy but as a blow against all civilized nations. After all, the primary target was the World Trade Center, not, say, the New York Stock Exchange. And among the approximately 3,000 victims of the attack were citizens of dozens of nations. ...
In light of this, it was just a bit hypocritical for the IOC to claim high principle in banning the ground zero flag from the parade of athletes. Thankfully, committee members realized this in time to correct their mistake.
Dallas Morning News
Although the Olympic creed celebrates the international gathering of athletes in a nonpolitical setting, the Olympic Games have always been forums for political and patriotic expressions.
The U.S boycotted the 1980 games in opposition to the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Several African-American athletes used the 1968 medal ceremony in Mexico City to spotlight racial injustice. Many other nations have kept their athletes at home in protest of any number of affronts.
So when the U.S. athletes wanted to proudly carry the tattered U.S. flag recovered from the World Trade Center rubble, the International Olympic Committee's concerns about excessive U.S. patriotism were grossly misplaced.
Thankfully, calmer heads prevailed. As a compromise, the World Trade Center flag will be incorporated into the opening ceremonies. A separate honor guard of athletes and New York police and firefighters will carry the flag as the national anthem is played. The flag will fly in the stadium in Salt Lake City.
This acknowledges the horror of Sept. 11 and remembers the attacks in an appropriate, solemn and dignified manner. It will be treated as a moment of reflection, not celebration. ...
The world does not wish a repeat of the 1972 Olympics in Munich, which were marred when terrorists murdered 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. The world's hope is for competition of the world's best that is safe and inspiring. Let the games begin.
Los Angeles Times
The 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics have been dogged by controversy: the vote-buying scandal, the subsequent shake-up of the International Olympic Committee, bickering over drug testing and--especially since Sept. 11--the insistence on airtight security. Now there's a flap over NBC's decision to wrap events in "storytelling" packages to run hours later in prime time. Delays may be forgivable when the Games are half a world away. But in Utah? And as for the "storytelling," the syrupy bathos of past Olympic broadcasts was as painful as a face plant on hard ice.
Alas, TV ratings and ad dollars reign supreme.
Now, though, let's do our best to forget all that. With the opening ceremony tonight, it becomes the athletes' Olympics. That means performance, skill, effort, concentration, frustration, victory, defeat and fun, even. It's exchanging pins with a skater from Russia or a ski racer from Slovakia, swapping e-mail addresses and learning to say "Good luck" in Swedish or Japanese. Athletes have been pointing toward this moment since childhood, and these Olympics will be the biggest of all: 2,654 athletes from 80 countries, 477 medals in 15 sports, hundreds of thousands of visitors. Salt Lake City is a marvelous setting with its backdrop of the Wasatch Range. ...
The magic is that even with all the slick, unwelcome television packaging, no one knows how any event will unfold. Unless, of course, they live on the West Coast and can't see the Games in real time. But a great downhill run or slap shot can't be extinguished by delay. Nor can the Olympic spirit.
Salt Lake Deseret News
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
And thus it is with the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.
The lighting of the caldron tonight at Rice Eccles Stadium during the opening ceremonies will add the punctuation mark to the phrase, "the spirit of the Olympics."
As the Games have gotten closer, the magical feeling that is a companion to them has increased in intensity. The torch relay runners have felt it, as have many of those watching them.
The spirit of the Olympics is powerful because the intent of the Olympics is noble.
The Games are competitive, no doubt. But what transcends the competition is a feeling of equality. Champions are determined by performance, not ethnicity or belief. The feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood is manifest throughout the Olympics, not only at the venues but in the athletes' village and in the communities fortunate enough to be part of the Olympic process. ...
The 2002 Games will not be perfect. There will be glitches -- the wishes and comprehensive planning sessions by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee notwithstanding.
The Olympics are a lot like life. They're too big and too complex for nothing to go wrong. The key, as de Coubertin has already noted, is to fight well. The Olympic athletes and organizers have done that. They have not only fought well, they have fought long. Their efforts will be rewarded.
Tonight represents commitments in time and energy that would require the efforts of a super computer to calculate.
Let the Games begin.
(Compiled by United Press International)