- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY. — How could the International Olympic Committee or anyone else, for that matter, think that a display of the ground zero flag would be too much of a show of American patriotism?

Are these people so isolated in their athletic ivory towers so out of touch with the world beyond their luxurious hotels rooms and chauffeured limos that they don't realize that the wound suffered in lower Manhattan on September 11 was a wound to the world and not just the United States?

Don't they realize that the flag recovered from that site represents something that isn't bound by national borders? It is the American flag, of course, and, yes, it is the most powerful symbol of our national pride. But it is so much more than that. It represents freedom. It is a symbol of liberty and justice.

If the Olympics does not embrace these ideals, then let's have the Closing Ceremony today, because otherwise there is no good reason to go on with this, other than to give NBC a television show.

The American flag is by no means the only flag on Earth that symbolizes these values. But the world wasn't ripped apart in Paris or England or someplace else on September 11. The wounds were inflicted on New York City and at the Pentagon, on the shores of the United States, and to believe, as IOC officials initially did, that you could disconnect that five months later from such an international event as the Olympics on those same shores shows how petty these Olympic officials are.

What they stand for has nothing to do with the Olympic values they claim to represent, because those values are the same as what the American flag stands for.

Thankfully, IOC officials were embarrassed enough when a groundswell of outrage began to swirl over their decision not to allow American athletes to carry the ground zero flag for the Opening Ceremony parade, and they reached a compromise with American Olympic officials that set up what was the most stirring moment last night at Rice-Eccles Stadium before a capacity crowd of about 52,000.

When President Bush was introduced to the crowd and walked out on the ice on the floor of the stadium, followed by police officers and firefighters marching into the cold Utah night with eight American Olympians holding the tattered ground zero flag and the singing of the national anthem by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, it was a moment that touched everyone all over the world who embraces the values of liberty and justice.

Bush spelled that out in a statement earlier in the day at an Olympic reception: "We believe that these ideals liberty and freedom make it possible for people to live together in peace, and the Olympics give the world a chance in the middle of a difficult struggle to celebrate international peace and cooperation."

And last night IOC officials acted as if their objections to the flag's presence as part of the Opening Ceremony had never occurred. Convenient amnesia has long been an IOC epidemic.

"People of America, Utah and Salt Lake City, we are gathered once again in your great country," IOC president Jacques Rogge said as he declared the 2002 Winter Olympics open. "Your nation is overcoming a horrific tragedy, a tragedy that has affected the whole world. We stand united with you in the promotion of our common ideals and hope for world peace."

At least today they do. Tomorrow is another story.

Let's face it: The Opening Ceremony is a glorified football halftime show, with a very long parade of athletes (it has gotten much longer since the Soviet Union broke up).

They can have their own little unique aspects, but overall they are jazzed up Las Vegas shows that are hardly memorable or ever really truly connected to the Olympic ideals.

The highlight is often the lighting of the Olympic flame, probably the only symbolic moment that people identify the Games with, although one other moment in the 1988 Summer Olympics is one that anyone who witnessed it will likely never forget. Part of the Opening Ceremony used to include the release of doves to symbolize world peace, but in Seoul the doves were accidentally barbecued when they came to rest on the Olympic cauldron when it was ignited.

Since then, organizers have used symbolic doves. Last night they were "dove-like kites" carried by skaters.

The lighting of the flame last night proved again to be another dramatic moment.

As skier Picabo Street given a role by organizers in the ceremony after being passed over by her teammates for other honors and Cammi Granato, captain of the women's hockey team, carried the torch up the stairs in the stands, they handed it off to Mike Eruzione, captain of the "Miracle on Ice" 1980 men's hockey team, who stood with the torch and, as he did when he received the gold medal in their stunning victory 22 years ago, waved his teammates to join him, and the rest of that historic squad gathered around the cauldron to help light the Olympic flame.

Last night America gave the Olympics a chance for another moment that people will identify with for a very long time, another moment that represents what the Olympics is supposed to stand for far more than any fireworks or light show.

It was the very thing that IOC officials feared that made last night's show so stirring and memorable a display of patriotism that celebrated not just America but what the world needs as well an international celebration of freedom that won't be stopped by those who fear such ideals.

Last night America gave the Olympics a chance to reclaim its soul.


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