Speedskater Peterson selected to carry U.S. flagPosted: Thursday February 07, 2002 12:36 AM
Updated: Thursday February 07, 2002 1:51 AM
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Short-track speedskater Amy Peterson will open her fifth Winter Olympics by carrying the U.S. flag into the Opening Ceremonies Friday night.
Peterson, a three-time Olympic medal winner, was chosen Wednesday night in a secret ballot by her teammates. She has succeeded as an elite athlete despite chronic fatigue syndrome.
"It's an honor anyway and I think to carry the flag in a situation like this, after Sept. 11, is an even greater honor," the 30-year-old Peterson said. "I am sure that it will be one of the most emotional experiences of my life."
Third-generation Olympian Jim Shea Jr. was chosen to give the athlete's oath. It's the same honor his grandfather, Jack Shea, received at the 1932 Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., his hometown. The elder Shea died at age 91 last month after a car wreck.
"I consider it a tremendous honor," Shea said.
The flag Peterson will carry into the parade of nations will not be the one recovered from the rubble of ground zero, although that treasured banner will be part of the ceremony.
The International Olympic Committee agreed Wednesday to allow the World Trade Center flag to be carried into the Opening Ceremonies and be the official U.S. flag of the Winter Games.
After the parade of nations, it will be brought into the stadium by eight U.S. athletes, New York City firefighters and Port Authority police. The athletes will be announced Thursday.
In choosing Peterson, eight captains of American teams bypassed skier Picabo Street, who lobbied for the honor for the past year, especially the last two days. She still could be chosen to help carry the ground zero flag.
"I just know it's going to be a very, very patriotic evening and we're going to give America something very, very pure to be proud of," Street said earlier Wednesday. "I hope we can make some of our military abroad feel proud."
Peterson, of Maplewood, Minn., won silver in the relay in 1992 and bronze in the relay and 500 meters in 1994. She also was on the U.S. team in 1988, when short-track speedskating was an exhibition sport.
"My teammates told me yesterday that they were going to nominate me," Peterson said. "There are a lot of great athletes who come through the United States and I never thought that I would actually get picked. It's just the greatest honor."
She overcame her fatigue condition to make the 1998 team and finished fourth in the 1,000-meters. She's also an eight-time U.S. short-track champion.
Shea is considered a favorite in the skeleton, an event returning to the Olympics for the first time since 1948.
But the main reason for his pre-Games fame is his family. Grandfather Jack won two gold medals in 1932 and his father, Jim Shea Sr., competed in the Nordic combined and two cross-country ski races at the 1964 Innsbruck Games.
The three generations were featured in a TV commercial and, last week, he was among the guests seated in first lady Laura Bush's box as President Bush delivered his State of the Union address.
The last U.S. athlete to give the oath was speedskater Eric Heiden at the 1980 Lake Placid Games.
Shea's impromptu acceptance speech sounded almost like a self-styled oath.
"The Olympics are about the world coming together in a peaceful competition and it's about participating and doing your best," he said. "The gold medals are great, but it's not what counts. What counts is that you try your hardest in fair play and follow the rules and represent your country with pride and honor."