Going for the gold

WASHINGTON CITY PAPER, 1994: To most spectators of the Lillehammer Olympic opening ceremony, the things that stood out were the skiing fiddlers, unruly reindeer, and kings swathed in GoreTex. But as the parade of nations passed the reviewing stand, Sam Smith, die-hard statehood advocate, full-time rabble rouser, and sometime editor of the Progressive Review, noted that something was amiss. Athletes from American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico strode proudly behind their territorial flags. While these semi-independent US colonies have their own Olympic teams, Washington does not. Once again, Smith realized, the nonvoting citizens of DC had been denied adequate representation.

“Not only are we not part of the Union, we’re not even allowed to play with the colonies. We’re even discriminated among the non-self-governing territories of the US,” Smith growls. “It’s all part of the colonial mentality, of accepting things the way they are.” . . . The oversight so enraged Smith that, by Monday morning, he had already founded and designed letterhead for the DC Olympic Organizing Committee (quickly renamed the Committee for a DC Team in the Olympics to avoid sounding too official), and appointed himself the “very interim chair.” Armed with the slogan “Give Us Liberty or Give Us the Gold,” Smith warmed up his fax and fired off a manifesto to local pols and industry bigwigs.

. . . Smith hopes parochial power brokers like [hardware magnate] John Hechinger, Jesse Jackson, and perhaps even [Redskins owner] Jack Kent Cooke will petition the International Olympic Committee to permit DC to compete in the next games. “Tonya Harding’s lawyers got the Olympic Committee to roll over — can you imagine Jesse Jackson and Jack Kent Cooke working in concert? You talk about the morality of Tonya Harding being allowed to compete in the Olympics, how about the immorality of DC not being allowed to compete?” he asks.

EPILOGUE: Jack Kent Cooke never came aboard, but Jesse Jackson did — long enough to write a supporting letter to Dr. Leroy Walker, President of the US Olympic Committee, right in the middle of the games. Dave Clarke, chair of the city council, also endorsed the idea. Unfortunately, Jackson’s attention deficit disorder soon took over and nothing more was heard from him. Even more distressing was the failure of DC activists who, rather than rushing to the cause, bombarded your editor with requests to be on the team — based on unsubstantiated and archaic claims of athletic prowess. Activist Keith Rutter even assured me that he had friends in Atlanta and so wouldn’t burden the team with room and board: “I started working out the minute I heard you on ‘Morning Edition.’

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