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US Olympic Hall of Fame -- an idea whose time is here

By Larry EldridgeSports editor of The Christian Science Monitor / August 30, 1982

Just about every sport has its Hall of Fame - from baseball's famous shrine in Cooperstown to similar museums honoring the greats of football, basketball, hockey, golf, tennis, and virtually any athletic endeavor imaginable. So why not a US Olympic Hall of Fame?

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As soon as one hears the question, it sounds like something that should have happened long ago. Now at last it is an idea whose time has come - starting with a nationwide traveling exhibit designed to collect memorabilia and build interest in the concept. The long-range plan is for a permanent Hall of Fame which would ''preserve for posterity the noteworthy achievements of America's Olympians and accord lasting recognition to our greatest amateur athletes.''

Actually, the idea was initially conceived back in 1979 as a joint venture by the US Olympic Committee and the Coca-Cola Company, which is sponsoring the current exhibit. The project wound up on the back burner for a couple of years while those concerned were occupied with more important matters such as the US non-participation in Moscow and its various effects, but now it is finally getting into high gear.

''We're delighted to begin moving from the planning phases into the first executional phases of this long-awaited project,'' said Col. F. Donald Miller, executive director of the USOC, at the beginning of the tour. ''This shrine will be dedicated not only to the glories of Olympians past, but to the youth of America, today and tomorrow.''

As far as the public is concerned, of course, the principal focus of any Hall of Fame is the election of members - and that, too, will begin this year. A committee comprised of members of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association and the USOC will meet next month to nominate candidates, and the entire NSSA will vote later in the year to elect the charter members. The first inductions will be held in 1983 at a site and date to be announced later.

The other main feature of any Hall of Fame is its memorabilia collection - and that's where the current traveling exhibit comes in. The tour is going to 22 cities this year and more than 30 next year for the dual purpose of publicizing the concept and collecting uniforms, photographs, equipment, pins, and other items - up to and including gold medals. The collection will be housed in a special pavilion in Los Angeles from the beginning of 1984 through the Olympics that summer, and after that at a permanent site to be determined.

The tour was launched last month at Los Angeles, where 1968 decathlon winner Bill Toomey donated the gold medal he won at Mexico City. Next it went to Indianapolis, where sprinter Wilma Rudolph, a triple gold medal winner in 1960, made an appearance along with the governor, the mayor, and numerous business leaders.

Subsequent stops have also resulted in visits by famous former Olympians as well as donations of all sorts of items.

In New York City two-time figure skating gold medalist Dick Button was on hand as were several other Olympians. Among the most interesting donations there was the 1912 team flag signed by Jim Thorpe and swimming star Duke Kahanamoku, among others.