XXIII Olympiad: the gold standard

The Los Angeles Olympics already has provided varied thrills for American readers and viewers: sports excellence, last-ditch victories, and warm human dramas.

West Germany's long-limbed Michael Gross swam to two gold medals and a silver. After an eight-year wait - a lifetime for an amateur athlete - Ambrose Gaines IV captured the men's 100-meter freestyle.

By a hand's-length the four young men of the US 4x200 freestyle relay swim team snatched a last-second victory. And in a remarkable upset US gymnasts won their first team gold medal ever in gymnastics.

Even more dramatic than the athletic achievements may be the warmth of the audience toward special visitors. Standing ovations greeted participants from Romania, the only Warsaw Pact nation to defy the Soviet bloc boycott and participate in the Olympic Games.

A similar welcome was given China's first Olympic athletes since 1952.

This is a time of patriotism and confidence in America, a time of proper support for many things American - including its Olympic contestants. Yet it is important that this not be exaggerated to the point of chauvinism, with an overemphasis on national rather than individual accomplishment.

Some - but not all - press and televised coverage of the Olympics thus far has erred in this direction. Too much has been made of the national gold-medal count. Viewers are primarily interested in seeing and learning about the highly skilled entrants with the best prospects of achieving victory. Understandably, word and picture coverage of the Olympics emphasizes them. Yet some teams have not been shown at all during televised performances - the West Germans during men's gymnastics competition, for instance.

An Olympics provides an opportunity to increase international understanding modestly through an appreciation for the accomplishments of athletes from other nations. Spectators at the Olympic events can see that firsthand.

For the rest of us, that opportunity can be realized only to the extent that the accomplishments of non-Americans - like those of Americans - are chronicled.

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