The meeting of
team captains to select the U.S. standard-bearer was held in a cramped
conference room. Voices were raised, and those waiting outside could hear
snatches of the nominating speeches. The archers, modern pentathletes and
shooters joined in a plea for Margaret Murdock, the phenomenal shooter. Her
selection would repudiate the anti-gun forces in the U.S., who, they said, have
conspired to keep shooting from achieving proper recognition. Yachting
nominated Conn Findlay; wrestling, Ben Peterson; track and field offered discus
thrower Jay Silvester and high hurdler Willie Davenport, both four-time
Olympians. And swimming put forward Gary Hall, 24, the three-time Olympian and
now a medical student at Cincinnati.
has never carried the flag in the opening ceremonies," said teammate Steve
Furniss, who briefly traced Hall's career through world records, the
frustrations of Munich—where he was highly favored in the 200 and 400
individual medley but didn't win—and periodic retirements because medical
studies prevented him from training. Then Hall said a few words about his love
of swimming and the honor of carrying the flag.
I touched the wall in the Olympic Trials and knew I'd made the team, the chance
of doing this popped into my mind," he said. He was prescient, because he
won on the second ballot. There was applause when the result was announced, and
Hall was surrounded by happy supporters.
A mild, gracious
man with soft gray eyes and the swimmer's luminous hair, Hall said, "This
is an indescribable feeling of honor. I'll be leading the greatest group of
athletes in the world, the U.S. team."
He was asked if
he would dip the flag at the reviewing stand.
ever dipped it?" he asked. "Does anybody else not dip it?"
think so," a fellow Olympian said.
In a low voice
Hall said, "Well, I wouldn't change things."
carefully discussed the fine balance between his commitment to his nation and
his Olympian's sense of the Games transcending nationality. "There has been
a lot of talk of how nationalism has been overplayed and how that has hurt the
Olympics," he said. "I don't agree, for the reason that competition is
a natural phenomenon. We can't change that. We should count our medals. We
should know how the U.S. is doing in relation to the others.
"At the same
time, athletes seem to me to serve as examples for the rest of the world. The
feeling of a common bond across national barriers through sport—it's so
exciting it's almost detrimental to performance. Yet at each of the Olympics
I've attended, some political event has altered the feeling, the atmosphere.
All the peace, the things the Olympics stand for, are forgotten when someone is
not allowed to compete. I'd rather take part in a game where what you call
yourself, the flag you carry, what you object to in other countries, could all
be set aside. If there was any way the deciders, the politicians, could weigh
the years of sweat and effort that they wipe out in one decision, how many
dreams. It's unmerciful. It's wrong."