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U.S. athletes show backbone on Darfur

August 6, 2008 |  8:49 am

U.S. runner Lopez Lomong

BEIJING -- As a supposedly objective journalist, I make it a point not to cheer for athletes, not even those from the United States during the Olympics.

I will make an exception today. Three cheers for the U.S. Olympians here.

Team captains Wednesday elected Lopez Lomong to carry their U.S. flag in the opening ceremony. Prevented by IOC rules to openly protest China's support of Darfur, the athletes did the next best thing.

They chose a Sudanese refugee, who made the U..S. track team in the 1,500 meters, to play a central role before an estimated billion television viewers worldwide.

This came hours after a shameful performance by USOC officials in not supporting 2006 Winter Olympian Joey Cheek's attempt to enter the country after his visa was revoked by the Chinese government. His sin was that he is a human rights activist for a group called Team Darfur.

USOC chief executive Jim Scherr went so far as to call him a former Olympian. As he should know, there is no such thing as a former Olympian.

As Olympian Anita DeFrantz recently told The Los Angeles Times: "Once you've competed, you're always an Olympian. Even if you dishonor yourself by cheating. Once an Olympian, always an Olympian."

Scherr is an Olympian, who used to wrestle. I like and respect him. But, on Wednesday, he was just another bureaucrat telling the Chinese what they wanted to hear.

Hurrah for his athletes, who took a stand.

-- Randy Harvey

Photo: U.S. runner Lopez Lomong speaks during an interview at a hotel in Dalian, Liaoning province, China on Aug. 3. Credit: Andy Wong / Associated Press