It is the least
remarkable of acts. Someone crosses a floor, extends a hand, says hello. At
these Winter Games it has happened every day: People meet, people move on. But
when it occurred at 3:45 p.m. on Feb. 7 at the Olympic Village in Turin,
passersby stopped to watch. A woman, tall and blonde and nearing her 27th
birthday, led some friends over to a group of strangers. Smiles flashed; there
was some broken English, some nervous laughter. Cameras were pulled out, and
soon the athletes were posing for pictures. Hands fell on shoulders as they
moved closer together. They were Olympians, after all, and for some, that alone
felt like a small miracle. � But that wasn't the half of it. � When the
thousands of athletes, fans, officials and reporters from more than 80
countries gathered in Turin for the 20th Winter Games, it was not the best of
times for world brotherhood. Olympics have been staged in the shadow of wars
hot and cold, of course, but these Games opened at a time when experts
seriously discussed whether one half of the planet could ever understand--much
less live in peace with--the other. The invasion of Iraq had made more enemies
than friends for the U.S. The publication of cartoons depicting the prophet
Muhammad in a Danish newspaper had helped touch off rioting by Muslims around
the world. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had said that Israel
should be "wiped off the map," had recently declared his intention to
obtain material suitable for building an atom bomb.
At a corner in one high-traffic corridor of downtown Turin, someone had sprayed
the black graffito, no islam. And the five female curlers who composed
Denmark's entire Olympic team arrived in Italy with a beefed-up security detail
amid rumors of terrorist threats.
Three days before
the Games began, there was a welcoming ceremony in the Olympic Village. This,
too, is usually an unremarkable event: It happens two or three times a day,
whenever enough of a nation's athletes check in. Gifts are exchanged between
the national Olympic committee and the mayor of the village; the nation's flag
is raised, and its anthem is played. But on the afternoon of Feb. 7, about 20
U.S. athletes were standing before a stage with the delegation of two athletes
and three officials from Iran--a member of the Axis of Evil, as it was dubbed
by President George W. Bush--and a half-dozen members of the team from Armenia.
The U.S. flag went up first. When The Star-Spangled Banner was played, one
member of Iran's group mouthed a few of the lyrics, and at the end all the
Iranians applauded. After the Iranian anthem was played, the U.S. team
next went beyond politeness. Kathleen Kauth, a U.S. hockey player from Saratoga
Springs, N.Y., and some of her teammates approached the Armenian athletes, then
the Iranians. Kauth might have been forgiven for wanting to stay away from the
Iranians, for not wanting to meet anyone representing a hard-line Islamic
republic. Her father, Don, died after the second plane hit the World Trade
Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
moved closer to the Iranians. She extended her hand. She had thought about this
during the playing of the Iranian anthem: The brotherhood of all athletes is
the Olympic ideal, sure, but these men represented what many Americans consider
an outlaw nation.
wondering what they were thinking," Kauth says of the Iranians. "I was
wondering what they might be going through."
This should have
been Kathleen Kauth's second Olympics. On Aug. 23, 2001, she beat out 25 other
women in an open tryout in Lake Placid, N.Y., for a spot on the U.S. hockey
team. She hadn't been a favorite to make it. The first time Kauth pulled on her
USA jersey, she looked around the locker room and thought, I don't belong here.
I think they made a mistake.
Only the season
before, during her final year at Brown, Kauth had seemed to come into her own.
Her father had sensed a change in her between her junior and senior years: For
the first time she seemed ready to push herself. When, after graduating,
Kathleen wanted to take prep courses for medical school and fight for a spot on
the Olympic team, Don helped make it work. He paid his daughter's living
expenses in Boston and for her MCAT cram courses and her daily work with a
personal trainer. Kathleen adopted his philosophy: If you want something, go
get it. She got stronger.
The day the team
was announced, Don, a bank analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods--a banking
and finance firm whose offices were on the 85th floor of the Trade Center's
South Tower--skipped work to attend the announcement ceremony in Lake Placid
with Kathleen and her mother, Anne, from whom he had been divorced amicably in
1995. Don cried and laughed when Kathleen made the cut. He hugged his ex-wife
and said, "This is what we did." He picked Kathleen up in the air, the
way he had when she was little. She had never seen him so happy. "I guess
it's unbelievable when your child all of a sudden becomes an adult," she
Three days later
Don hosted a cookout for some of Kathleen's new teammates, filet mignon on the
grill. Then the U.S. squad left to play four games in China. Kathleen scored
three goals and began feeling like she might actually belong. Don called one of
his brothers and said, "My little girl is going to the Olympics!"