Originally created 02/08/02

U.S. sets emotional Olympic stage



SALT LAKE CITY - Mark Grimmette understands the dilemma.

As a U.S. Olympian, Mr. Grimmette knows his countrymen see the 2002 Winter Olympics as the next step in America's recovery from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The Muskegon, Mich., native welcomes the patriotic feelings sure to be generated by what could be the best Winter Games performance ever by a U.S. team.

At the same time, though, Mr. Grimmette also understands that these are not just America's games. The Olympics belong to the world, which means the host United States must do more than salve its still-mending wounds on this international stage.

Even so, when the games begin tonight with the colorful, emotional opening ceremonies at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium, Mr. Grimmette and seven other U.S. Olympians will proudly carry the American flag recovered from the World Trade Center rubble as a symbol of resiliency, defiance and determination.

"It's very difficult to know where to draw the line on something like this," said Mr. Grimmette, a bronze medalist in the luge doubles at the 1998 Nagano Games.

"I would hope people see this as a reaction to something that happened to the whole world and not just to America," he added. "Yes, it happened on U.S. soil, but it also happened to a lot of world citizens. I think this should be viewed as such."

The display of the World Trade Center flag has become a minor international issue in the days leading up to the most costly, most security-conscious Winter Olympics in history.

Officials of the International Olympic Committee, always anxious to keep political matters out of the games, have been reluctant to let America wrap itself in a fire-damaged flag. Different proposals regarding its display were proposed and altered.

Eventually, all sides agreed that the flag would be carried by a group of U.S. Olympians that include Mr. Grimmette, figure skater Todd Eldredge and skeleton athlete Lea Ann Parsley, who is also a firefighter.

"There was even discussion about including athletes from other countries in this presentation," said Sandy Baldwin, the president of the United States Olympic Committee. "There were 80 countries who lost people in the World Trade Center, so it truly was an international event.

"I haven't heard a single word of resentment about this, and I've been right in the middle of this."

Final preparations continued through Thursday night as organizers prayed that a transportation system designed to get people from Salt Lake City to the skiing and sliding events in the fog-shrouded Wasatch Mountains functions efficiently.