US Olympic athletes to get gold medals of a sort

In a twist to the old "a chicken in every pot" theme, the US Olympic Committee (USOC) has come up with a gold medal for every pocket. As part of its "direct commitment to the athletes selected for the Olympic team," the USOC has had a special commemorative gold medal struck for each team member.

The medals, to be presented on the steps of the Capitol July 30, are just one reward for athletes denied the opportunity to compete in the Moscow Olympics. They are being feted and entertained during a five-day "Olympic Honors Program" that began Saturday in Washington.

American Olympic officials certainly haven't skimped in their efforts to show the Olympians a good time. The price tag on the "honors" fling is $1.5 million, not including free and reduced-rate round-trip airfares approved by the Civil Aeronautics Board. Sending a 550-member contingent to Moscow would have cost $2 .4 million.

A highlight of the trip is expected to be a reception and dinner at the White House hosted by President and Mrs. Carter. Tours of such sights as the Washington Monument and the zoo have also been arranged along with a night at Ford's Theater and a dinner-tour at the Smithsonian Institution.

The only group missing from the festivities are the swimmers, whose national championships begin July 29 in Irvine, Calif. Because athletes in other sports are in training for post-Olympic competitions, training facilities have been arranged for them at Washington-area colleges.

The USOC's responsibility to amateur athletics is an ongoing and ambitious one. Even canceling the Moscow trip provides only a minor savings in the face of mounting operating costs.

Expenses for pre- and post-Olympic competitions have actually grown, rising by some $2 million to $8.5 million. Yet public contributions have reportedly almost dried up since the Soviets intervened in Afghanistan. As a result, the organization could fall well shy of its 1980 fund-raising goal of $11 million.

"People sympathize with the athletes who didn't get to go to Moscow, but they don't see why there's a need to give money," says Ray Miller, the USOC's director of fund raising.

To heighten public awareness of this problem, millions of people will soon receive direct-mail solicitations or watch TV appeals featuring US Olympians.

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