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Ron Judd's Olympics Insider

Ron Judd, an Olympics junkie and Seattle Times columnist who has covered Olympic sports since 1997, will use this space to serve up news and opinion on the Summer and Winter Games -- also inviting you to chime in on Planet Earth's biggest get-together.

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August 23, 2008 7:56 PM

Trying to start an argument about the U.S. flagbearer

Posted by Ron Judd

A note here on Khatuna Lorig, selected yesterday by U.S. team captains as the flag-bearer for the U.S. in the closing ceremony. A reader asks: is there's any political significance to her choosing?

One would assume so. Lorig, an archer, is a native of Georgia, the tiny nation that was essentially invaded by Russia last week. And she used to compete alongside Russians as a member of the Unified Team, and in fact won a bronze medal in team competition for the Unified team in 1992, when she competed four months pregnant. So maybe it's the universal, one-world, humanity-extends-beyond borders theme.

But any political statement made by her choosing is certainly less clear than, say, the choice of "Lost Boy of Sudan" Lopez Lomong to carry the flag in the opening ceremony. The choice is being widely perceived as a show of support by U.S. athletes for beseiged Georgians (Lorig's parents had to flee the Russian onslaught of the city of Gori). But Lorig herself has downplayed that angle.

Absent her heritage, it's one of the oddest choices I've ever seen. The flag-bearer usually is someone who -- sorry -- has actually medaled at the Olympics (Lorig went out in the quarterfinals), or become a compelling story in some other way. She fits none of those definitions.

I have no problem with U.S. athletes using the selection to make a political statement. I'd even welcome one. But if you're going to do it, make a statement that resonates. Like, hand the flag to a cardboard cutout of Joey Cheek, who carried the flag into the stadium in Turin, but was barred by China from attending the Beijing Games because of his activism over Darfur.

Speaking of which: The rumor going around Beijing was that they tried to hand the flab-bearer duties to Tyson Gay. But he couldn't manage to hold on to the thing.


If we're going to ding the choice for flag-bearer, the least we probably could do is choose some alternates. How about (in order):

-- Lisa Leslie, basketball center. At 36, likely her last Games, and she leaves with four gold medals and a perfect record, having never lost a game.

-- Henry Cejudo, children of undocumented Mexican immigrants and surprise wrestling gold medalist.

-- Natalie Coughlin. Six medals. As distinguished and classy an Olympian as you'll find.

-- Hope Solo. Obvious reasons.

-- Bryan Clay. First men's decathlon winner since Dan O'Brien in 1996.

-- Jason Lezak. Known as something less than a go-to guy for his entire career, he makes eight golds possible for Michael Phelps (who is in London and therefore not a choice.)

-- Someone from that upstart U.S. men's volleyball team, still alive for a gold medal.

Any other suggestions?

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