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A Flap Arises Over Late-Arriving Flag

Stars and Stripes will go up today at U.S. housing facility after a delay caused at least in part by security concerns.

August 10, 2004|Steve Springer and Alan Abrahamson | Times Staff Writers

ATHENS — U.S. athletes have been arriving at the Olympic village for nearly a week, but there has been no American flag adorning their housing facility -- apparently at least partly because of security concerns.

USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said that the flag "was not displayed, as a precautionary measure leading up to the Games."

With at least one U.S. athlete questioning the absence of the Stars and Stripes, and one member of the U.S. contingent speculating, anonymously, that the flag could serve as an aerial target for terrorists, Olympic Committee officials said late Monday that the flag would go up today.

The flag was raised Monday evening in a traditional Olympic welcoming ceremony at a central location away from the housing facilities. Thus, USOC officials said afterward, the flag could -- and would -- now be flown at the U.S. housing facility.

Seibel said, "We wanted to get into the village and assess the conditions and wait until the official raising of the flag. Now that we have had an opportunity to settle in, we feel a great deal of comfort in the village."

What conditions, Seibel was asked, would have prevented the flag from being displayed?

"I can't imagine what those conditions would have been," Seibel said. "We will be displaying the flag as other nations do, making certain it is displayed in a manner consistent with the respect and dignity it deserves."

Jim Scherr, the USOC's chief executive, said late Monday that although the delegation intended to fly the flag with pride, the U.S. team also wanted to show respect for others in the village. "We are proud of our flag and proud of our country," Scherr said. "We want to demonstrate that," to show that the U.S. team is "honoring our flag, our country and those individuals who are currently defending our flag and those people who have done so in the past."

At the same time, he said, "We're also sensitive to the spirit of the Olympic Games and our international counterparts here at the Games, and we want to treat all those individuals appropriately."

Perhaps 250 U.S. athletes have checked into the village, Scherr said. Ultimately, it will house 300 to 350 members of the 531-member U.S. athlete delegation. A significant number of athletes, including the men's basketball team, are staying elsewhere.

"Most athletes arrived [in the village] in the last day or two," Scherr said.

On Monday afternoon, with the flag still missing, Laura Berg of the U.S. women's softball team had expressed frustration. The softball team checked in last week.

"It's kind of disappointing," she said. "Everybody else can put their flag up. Why can't we?"

Teammate Jennie Finch, meanwhile, said there was no pressure on her and her fellow athletes to assume low profiles. "We are not downplaying our presence at all," she said. "We are wearing our USA stuff everywhere we go. We are proud of our country."

Berg agreed. "It's not a concern," she said. "We want to have the flag draped around us. We take pride in it."

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