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Eldredge, Others to Carry WTC Flag

February 7, 2002

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ Some 3 billion people will watch a torn, ragged piece of red-white-and-blue cloth circle the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, carried by athletes and real-life heroes.

And if the winds are light and the snow holds off, these television viewers from Sioux Falls to Sydney will see it fly, just as it did on the morning of Sept. 11.

After 24 hours of confusion, criticism and compromise, the International Olympic Committee relented Wednesday and agreed to let the tattered flag from ground zero be paraded around Rice-Eccles Stadium by an American honor guard.

Unless there is bad weather, the delicate flag _ the only one flying at the World Trade Center the day of the terrorist attacks _ will be hoisted next to the Olympic flame, and serve as the official U.S. flag of the Salt Lake City Games.

``We had a great deal of discussion as to how to honor the flag as a symbol of the heroes of Sept. 11,″ said Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, who criticized the IOC’s original decision.

``This is a way to honor the flag and honor the Olympians as a world event. We feel very connected with the athletes of the world.″

At the airport Wednesday night, the World Trade Center flag arrived in Salt Lake City to cheers from hundreds of people. Port Authority police Sgt. Tony Scannella, accompanied by Officer Frank Accardi, carried it in a wooden triangular container that was wrapped in blue nylon cord.

``We’re very happy the International Olympic Committee has made this decision,″ Scannella said.

``I’m sure the Port Authority workers, all the families of the victims are happy and proud. We’re all proud that the flag will be part of the opening ceremony. The Olympics mean a lot to all people.″

On Thursday, the USOC announced that one athlete from each winter sport, including figure skater Todd Eldredge and ice hockey gold medalist Angela Ruggiero, would carry the flag into the stadium after voting by their teammates.

Others in the honor guard are Kristina Sabasteanski, a biathlete who serves in the military; skeleton racer Lea Ann Parsley, who is a firefighter; Curler Stacy Liapis; luger Mark Grimmette; speedskater Derek Parra; and snowboarder Chris Klug, who is back in the games after a liver transplant.

In a vote Wednesday, U.S. athletes chose Amy Peterson, a three-time Olympic medalist in short-track speedskating, to be the traditional flag bearer who walks ahead of the U.S. team in the parade of nations. She will carry a different U.S. flag.

The IOC initially agreed only to allow the trade center flag to be raised at the opening ceremony, afraid that a U.S. Olympic Committee proposal to have athletes carry the flag just behind the U.S. team in the parade of nations might violate IOC rules against political commentary.

But that plan brought a barrage of criticism, from Romney saying he ``respectfully disagreed″ to more high-volume complaints on talk shows and in e-mails.

A compromise was reached just before midnight Tuesday, after a two-hour meeting of IOC, USOC and SLOC officials and their advisers.

``The ground zero flag will enter solemnly during the opening ceremony,″ IOC director general Francois Carrard said. ``It will be carried by an honor guard of American athletes and other heroes, policemen, firemen. This will be a solemn, dignified entrance.″

When it’s displayed Friday night, it will be an all-American show, carried by athletes from the U.S. team and accompanied by police and firefighters from New York.

``This is American heroes, American victims, the American flag, the national anthem,″ Carrard said. ``This is a very dignified moment for us, but we are in America, we are not interfering.″

The 12-foot-by-8-foot flag was buried in rubble for three days and was torn in two places. Rescuers turned it over to a National Guard colonel for a ceremonial destruction. The colonel gave the flag to the Port Authority Police Department. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey owned the trade center.

The flag flew over a World Series game at Yankee Stadium last fall and was included in ceremonies at last Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Now, the Olympics gets its chance.

``There is always a question, what is the best way?″ said Bob Ctvrtlik, a former Olympic volleyball player from the United States and now an IOC member. ``I think the U.S. athletes will be very satisfied.″

Yes, indeed.

``I would be proud to see it flown and I would be proud to be a part of it,″ luge racer Adam Heidt said. ``I think most athletes would feel the way I do. It’s a great way to honor those lost.″

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