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A Difficult Reaction

September 07, 2002|Peter Yoon

Matthews and Collett Booed on Victory Stand by Fans

Vince Matthews of Brooklyn and Wayne Collett of Santa Monica were booed by the Olympic Stadium crowd for chatting and fidgeting instead of standing at attention on the victory stand during the national anthem. They had finished 1-2 in the 400 meters. Matthews denied any disrespect was intended.

"If we wanted to protest, we could do a better job than that," he said. "People are trying to make something out of nothing."



But U.S. officials were sensitive after the incident on the victory stand four years earlier when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a Black Power salute. Collett also raised his fist to the crowd at Munich after the boos, but said he was merely saying, "Hi ya."

Yank, Soviet Cage Teams Reach Finals

The United States was confirmed as the gold-medal favorite based on the semifinal results. Coach Hank Iba's young team beat Italy, 68-38, and the Soviet Union had to come from behind to beat Cuba, 67-61.



*--* Country G S B T Soviet Union 31 21 17 69 U. States 26 26 23 75 E. Germany 18 16 19 53


*--* QUOTE


"Ester Shahamorov, not entered."

--Note on 100-meter hurdle heat sheet about Israeli hurdler, whose coach was killed in the massacre two days before. The remaining Israelis left Munich.



As he watched the Twin Towers and Pentagon burn on television last Sept. 11, Wayne Collett felt the same rage and sadness most Americans felt, the same pain and horror.

He felt personally violated and was infused with a strong sense of patriotism--reactions that might surprise those familiar with Collett's behavior during the medal ceremony after winning the silver in the 400 meters at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.

"I try not to think in nationalistic terms, but this was an attack on the U.S.," Collett said of the Sept. 11 attacks. "It was like nothing I had experienced before. I took it personally."

Collett, 52, had become infamous for not standing at attention during the playing of the national anthem during his Olympic medal ceremony. He and 400 gold-medal winner Vince Matthews stood with hands on hips and talked during the anthem in a protest of U.S. civil rights policies back home.

The protest drew the wrath of the International Olympic Committee, which banned Collett and Matthews from the rest of the Munich games and cost the sprinters a shot at gold as members of the favored 1,600 relay team. Collett said the protest had nothing to do with anti-American feelings and has long been misunderstood as an act of unpatriotic behavior.

"I love America," he said. "I just don't think it's lived up to its promise. I'm not anti-American at all. To suggest otherwise is to not understand the struggle of blacks in America at the time."

After the 1972 Olympics, Collett earned a law degree and practiced from 1977-1992. He has since quit law and now works in the real estate and mortgage industry in the Los Angeles area. A grandfather of two, Collett was inducted into the UCLA athletic hall of fame in 1992.

Collett says that race relations have improved since his day on the medal stand, though he said those issues still have much room for improvement. Because of that, even with the pall of the Sept. 11 attacks still draped over the country, he doesn't know if he would honor the anthem if put in the same situation today.

"Things are very different today," he said. "But I've never been one to sing the anthem. It's not my style."

Peter Yoon

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