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Let's hear it for the Yanks' attitudes
Korea Olympics needed more -- not less -- of that indepependent spirit the Americans showed

29 September 1988

Call it a flat, not an apartment. This was London, after all, and nobody here would think of calling it an apartment.

In the flat was a television -- a telly -- tuned, of course, to the BBC. (This is not the BBC of Masterpiece Theater, but the channel reserved for domestic consumption. Championship Darts, for instance.)

And on this day the television was tuned, like millions around the world, to the pagaent of the Olympic Games in South Korea, where athletes marched into the stadium at Seoul to inaugurate the Olympiad.

It was fun for two Americans to watch. British announcers added a cosmopolitan feel to the proceedings -- an odd counterpart to the ABC spectacles of familiar memory. Certainly, there was less fascination with things American on that particular telecast, and that was interesting and refreshing, too.

But there was no ignoring the Americans as they marched in. More than 620 of them in all, they dressed in boring uniforms but wore an American attitude that set them apart from the other nations as surely as the turbans and dashikis marked the members of some delegations. Their easy stride -- not quite a swagger -- and self-confident smiles served notice that the Yanks had arrived.

And yes, some wore Mickey Mouse ears and carried signs like "Hi Mom, I'm here." The solemn high priests of the Olympics were not amused. They looked out upon the proceedings and they saw that they were bad.

What they said, actually, was that the American's behavior was "scandalous," and that their actions had "given the whole world a bad impression of your delegation." Juan Antonio Samaranch, the Pope of the International Olympic movement, was said to be especially put off.

To the aging Olympic royalty, the solemn procession of steroid-eating Bulgarians was probably much to be preferred. Far better, I suppose, was the more reverent advance of Chilean marksmen.

One of the Americans, after all, had even carried a banner about world peace. Probably that was too political for the Olympic administrators.

If they had known what was to come in the two weeks following that opening ceremony in Seoul, members of the International Olympic Committee probably would have been more careful about using the word "scandalous" to describe the Americans' entrance. With the image of Ben Johnson dethroned and his teammates running for the airport now fresh in their minds, even the mavens of the IOC have perhaps gained a fuller perspective on scandalous behavior.

The athletes march again today, this time in closing ceremonies to bid farewell to two tarnished weeks of competition and cheating in Seoul. Even the thousands who played honestly and won or lost their contests undrugged will bring home memories stained somewhat by the steroid spectacles.

And if those marchers find the lightness in the hearts for a funny sign to mom or an antic prance across the stadium track, Juan Antonio Samaranch ought to be thankful. There were scandals much in evidence at this Olympic competition, but not in the ranks of happy American athletes marching in.

A warning letter sent after the opening ceremonies admonished American team officials and expressed the hope that the delegation would be "more appropriate" in the closing ceremonies.

I hope not. Rising above appropriate is the best hope this Olympics has for curing the deep sickness that ailed it.

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