Winter Olympics: Americans will carry 11 September flag at opening ceremony

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The Independent Online

In a compromise balancing American patriotism with Olympic protocol, the tattered American flag from ground zero of New York's World Trade Centre will be carried at the Winter Games' opening ceremony, but not as part of the main procession.

A group of American athletes will carry the flag, joined by an honour guard of police officers and firefighters. The International Olympic Committee had said American athletes would not be allowed to carry the flag, but that it could be raised as the official US flag at the ceremony. That decision was criticised by US officials, and the IOC relented, despite the possible appearance of jingoism at a major international event.

Strict rules govern the opening ceremony. Athletes are prohibited from any political displays and are required to parade under the flag of each delegation. The US flag bearer, to be announced today, will carry a flag separate from the Trade Centre banner.

The flag will be carried into the stadium after the athletes' parade and before the national anthem. As hosts, the American anthem is played and the US flag raised over the ceremony, along with the Olympic flag.

The flag's part in the opening ceremony at the Olympics created lengthy debate among the IOC, the Salt Lake Organising Committee and the US Olympic Committee, which had first proposed carrying the flag during the opening ceremony. The IOC, however, had said those plans would single out the Americans in a group of nations where many others have suffered.

The ground zero flag was flying at the World Trade Centre on the morning of 11 September and then buried in rubble for three days. It will fly in Rice-Eccles Stadium instead, next to the cauldron bearing the Olympic flame. Officials said it probably would be lowered after the ceremony because of its delicate condition.

Meanwhile, Matthew Pinsent yesterday took his place as Britain's third member of the International Olympic committee alongside Princess Anne and Craig Reedie. Fifteen months ago, Britain's three-time rowing gold medallist had missed out on election to the IOC Athletes' Commission by one vote, but the withdrawal of the Czech Republic's Olympic javelin champion Jan Zelezny, who wants to concentrate on training, reopened the door for Pinsent to become one of the eight representatives from the summer Games.

"The job of the Athletes' Commission is to reflect the views of athletes from all the world," Pinsent said. "That trips off the tongue very easily but it is actually a huge challenge. Taking up this position gives me a chance to dabble my toes and see if this is something I want to do long-term when I give up competing."

Pinsent is one of only three active athletes on the Commission, alongside Prince Albert of Monaco, who competes here in the bobsleigh, and the Russian swimmer Alexander Popov.

"Just about the only thing that went wrong for us in Sydney was Matthew not getting elected," said Reedie. "From both a British and an Olympic point of view, I think it would be hard to find anyone better as a representative, and I believe he will make an enormous contribution to the movement."

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