Embarrassed in Sydney, Americans will get medal-stand training

Wednesday, April 25th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ Embarrassed by a flag-draping, muscle-flexing celebration by an American gold-medal relay team in Sydney, U.S. Olympic officials will give athletes pointers on how to act in Salt Lake City.

To do so, they are planning a series of presentations to Salt Lake hopefuls that may include a videotape of the preening and posing of the men's 1,600-meter relay squad after the win in Sydney.

``It's important not only for their country but for their futures that they not desecrate that very special moment,'' said Sandra Baldwin, president of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Exactly how proper medal stand etiquette will be taught remains to be worked out in the coming months, though Baldwin said she hopes to enlist athletes who have won medals in the past to give advice on medal stand protocol.

That likely won't include members of the Sydney relay team, whose behavior horrified Baldwin and drew boos and whistles from the Australian crowd.

Though they later apologized under a firestorm of criticism, it's clear the reaction to their display remains a touchy subject with the runners.

``They don't have anything to say,'' said Emanuel Hudson, manager of three of the runners. ``They're not pros on the subject. This is not a career vocation for them.''

Fellow athletes cringed and the crowd booed the American relay team of Maurice Green, Jon Drummond, Bernard Williams and Brian Lewis as they flexed and posed for several minutes on a victory lap _ two of them bare chested and draped in the stars and stripes.

It didn't stop there. When former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger awarded them their medals, the four continued clowning and Greene stuck his tongue out at the cameras.

After they were criticized by both fans and fellow athletes, the runners apologized, saying they were caught up in the emotion of the moment.

``Jon Drummond never won an Olympic gold before, so sorry,'' Drummond said at the time.

Baldwin said she hopes the pre-Olympic training will take that excuse away by giving athletes a definition of what is expected of them after winning a medal. Athletes also will be given training on good conduct during the games so incidents such as American hockey players trashing a room after a loss in Nagano won't be repeated

``It's important we put America's best foot forward in the Salt Lake Games,'' she said. ``In Salt Lake, it becomes a focal point because it's in America. But I think it's important at any games.''

The Sydney case wasn't the first in a medal ceremony for American athletes. In 1992, members of the first American basketball Dream Team pinned and draped American flags at odd angles over their uniforms so they wouldn't show the Reebok logo when many of the athletes had contracts with Nike.

The best-known case came in 1968 in Mexico City, when Tommie Smith and John Carlos mounted the victory stand barefooted and wearing civil rights buttons after finishing first and third, respectively, in the 200-meter race.

As ``The Star-Spangled Banner'' played, Smith and Carlos bowed their heads and each raised a black-gloved fist in the black-power salute.

The International Olympic Committee was outraged and wanted punishment. The U.S. Olympic Committee responded by suspending the two athletes and ordering them from the Olympic Village.

Times have changed, but the reaction to the relay runners in Sydney shows it's still evident that the public's perception of how an athlete reacts on the world's stage is crucial.

``It can make or break an athlete's future,'' USOC spokesman Mike Moran said. ``It is clearly something the American public expects, that their athletes react in a certain way.''

Because they didn't, don't expect Greene and the rest of the relay runners to be doing anything that draws attention to their antics.

``Maurice Greene has said everything that needs to be said about the subject,'' Hudson said. ``They've been made the poster boys. We don't need to continue it for the rest of their career.''