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Chauvinism not in Olympic spirit; female gymnasts too young?

By Ross AtkinStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 30, 1988


Curtail nationalistic displays. Victory laps are fine. It'd be nice, though, if the athletes would dispense with the extravagant shows of patriotism that have practically become the norm for American track and field winners.

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After their victories, several United States gold medalists were given large cutouts of a red, white, and blue hand, with the index finger extended, and ``No. 1 USA'' printed on one side.

This struck many observers as even more chauvinistic than simply carrying an American flag, as numerous athletes did in Los Angeles and have continued to do here.

Despite the obvious tendency to nationalize achievements at the Olympics, it would seem more in keeping with the spirit of international goodwill to minimize nationalistic displays as much as possible. This should really be a time to celebrate the feats of mankind over those of countries.

Some have even proposed replacing national anthems at medal-award ceremonies with the playing of a universal work such the ``Ode to Joy'' from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

Actually it is nice to hear the various anthems, although some of them get played with almost monotonous regularity, and many not at all.

There are already more than enough national symbols in the Olympics, including these anthems, team uniforms, and the flags raised to represent the countries of the medal winners.

The International Olympic Committee could easily bar flags on the track or victory platform. Doing so would not only limit some of the blatant national chest pounding, it might make the athletes feel more comfortable as well. As it is, any athlete who refuses to parade around with a flag might risk being labeled unpatriotic, which often may not be the case. Soccer dispute

Instead of wanting its sport fully ``open'' at the Olympics, the international soccer federation (FIFA) seeks to keep the doors closed to many professionals.

FIFA doesn't have any hang-ups about professionalism per se, but it wishes to avoid making the Olympics a repeat of the quadrennial World Cup tournament. Consequently, the sport's governing body is calling for an under-23 age limit on players at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Olympic officials, however, don't want a youth tournament.

The soccer people say they would drop out of the Olympics and organize their own youth competition before they'd give in on this issue. FIFA can't afford to bluff, though, because the International Olympic Committee, concerned that the Games may be too big, might not fight to keep soccer in the fold. A look ahead in gymnastics

Two issues need addressing in women's gymnastics between now and the next Olympics, says Mike Jacki, executive director of the United States Gymnastics Federation. One is the tender age at which some girls enter international competition, and the other is the tendency to make derring-do a higher priority than grace.

Jacki would like to see 16 as the minimum age of competitors. In the Olympics, athletes only have to be 15 during the year in which the Games are held.

``We're catering to these very, very small children and it's perhaps giving them the wrong impression of what the sport really is,'' Jacki says.

The need for more elegance, he feels, has grown as gymnasts search for ways to distingush themselves with risky stunts. Jacki says this trend stems from concerns that doing the same thing equally as well as another gymnast doesn't guarantee the same score, given politicized judging.

``The coaches want their kids to do more than the other kids. That's the wrong direction,'' he says. ``The crowds like to see the excitement and the difficulty, but I also think they are impressed with control, elegance, and a whole variety of other things.'' Prospective '96 hosts line up

A number of cities have already thrown their hats into the Olympic ``rings,'' indicating interest in holding the golden anniversary of the modern Games, which will occur in 1996. Athens is one of the candidates, and the only one with a strong built-in edge.

The Olympics have their roots in ancient Greece, and were revived 100 years ago in Athens. Assuming that members of the IOC have a proper respect for history and tradition, it's logical to ask, ``How can Athens lose?''

A contingent representing that city addressed this perception at a press conference here. While expressing confidence, the group's members made it clear they hardly expect the '96 Games to be handed to them.

A spokesman for the group said Athens is moving ahead on many fronts in order to be fully worthy of the host's role.

``We want to develop our city in such a way that our bid is on a par with that of any other city,'' he said.