BOSTON — Sixth-Grader Csilla Will Run
ON Sunday morning, on a half-mile strip of sun-baked Redondo Beach in Pasadena, Calif., students at the St. Elizabeth School plan to support the Olympic movement for a very personal reason: Their sixth-grade schoolmate Csilla Szemn.
"Most of my friends from my school will be there," says Csilla, one of the youngest people selected to be an Olympic torchbearer. "Even the principal said he will come." (All torchbearers must be at least 12 years old.)
Csilla is one of 2,500 "commoners" selected from across the country through Coca-Cola's "Who Would You Choose?" program. In nominating Csilla, her aunt Rose Ewell simply wrote: "Csilla is a very special person in my life and deserves to be a torchbearer."
The selection came as a surprise to the Szemns, who were not informed by "Rosie" that she had nominated their daughter. "My first reaction was, 'How did it happen?' I did not know what to say because it is such a global event," says Csilla's mother, Margo, who was born in Mexico and is married to Hungarian-born John Szemn.
But the most excited member of the family is Csilla, now famous at St. Elizabeth's. "Everybody at the school knows it," says an obviously thrilled Csilla, who is not sure if she wants to work toward becoming an Olympian.
She likes a lot of things: Ballet folklorico (traditional Mexican dancing), movies, soccer, swimming, street hockey, and chili-cheese fries. Whatever she grows up to be, Csilla says, this Sunday at 9.45 a.m. will be a memorable day in her life.
An Ex-Marine Takes the Torch
FOR one former soldier - a self-confessed "couch potato" - the invitation to bear the Olympic torch was a wake-up call.
"I never knew it - it came as a surprise," says Raymond Clausen Jr. Out of the blue he was informed that he had been chosen to carry the Olympic torch for one kilometer (5/8 mile) in Ponchatoula, La.
"It's going to be quite different from anything I've ever done before," says Clausen, who served 4 years, 3 months, 27 days, 15 hours, 10 minutes, and 20 seconds as a Marine - mostly in Vietnam - from 1967 to 1970.
Clausen is one of 5,000 "community heroes" selected as torchbearers for performing outstanding volunteer work, being a role model, performing acts of kindness, or accomplishing extraordinary feats.
The selection process was aided by some 1,400 United Way organizations around the country. Individuals filled out entry forms and wrote an essay describing their choices. In Clausen's instance, his friend wrote: "If heroes go above and beyond the call of duty, there is no question that Raymond Clausen is in that category."
In Vietnam, Clausen guided helicopter pilots on dangerous rescue missions. On one sortie he took charge of evacuating 11 wounded Marines trapped in a mine field, at great risk to himself. For that he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Bearing the Olympic torch is another honor.
"I'm very excited," Clausen says. "This gives me another way to represent our country in the eyes of the world."
'Like Being Thanked Once More'
ALMOST 50 years after he churned the pool at the London Games in 1948, Jim McLane of Boston says he feels that America is thanking him once again for doing his country proud.
McLane is among 800 Olympic heroes - some well-remembered, but many long-forgotten - who were invited to carry the Olympic flame. Each has been given the choicest half-mile stretch of the area in which he or she now lives: McLane got Boston; heptathlon star Jackie-Joyner Kersee will run through Los Angeles; and speed-skater Bonnie Blair her home town of Milwaukee.
"It's an honor I will cherish," says McLane, who won two gold medals in London, one of them in the grueling 1,500-meter freestyle event.
For McLane, the effort by the United States Olympic Committee to contact former Olympians and make them part of this year's Games comes as a surprise. "There has never been any attempt to contact us before," he says. "I hope it starts a new trend."
Now retired, McLane volunteers two days a week at a local hospital, plays the cello, and swims at the Harvard University pool in Cambridge, Mass.
"It is a wonderful feeling to be remembered again, he says. "It brings back pleasant memories."
In postwar London, McLane recalls, there were no new stadiums. All the athletes were amateurs - servicemen or students. "Today there is so much commercialism, nationalism, hype," he says. "But the Olympics is a marvelous tradition, the continuation of a beautiful spirit."