Evelyn Ashford, whose first Games coincided with the last U.S.-Soviet showdown in the Summer Olympics, carries the American flag Saturday at opening ceremonies marking resumption of the world's most politically fired sports rivalry.
The Seoul Games begin with more than 13,000 athletes and officials marching for a record 160 nations in a Saturday morning extravaganza that will be played to a royal tune.Ashford will be the figurative, even if controversial, bearer of the hopes of a 600-strong U.S. team as it files into Olympic Stadium, a 70,000-seat edifice whose sloping roof was designed to evoke images of a Chosun Dynasty bowl.
If members of the track and field team had been asked, though, they would have selected discus thrower Mac Wilkins to carry the flag, and men's co-captain, Steve Scott, said the team was upset.
U.S. track and field athletes arrived in Seoul from Japan Thursday night after they voted for Wilkins to represent them, should they be asked. Scott, a miler, said they weren't, even though some of their team representatives knew a decision already had been made.
"She wasn't the person the athletes wanted," Scott said. "It's nothing personal against her. It's just the way I feel. The vote was very substantial (in Wilkins' favor). I don't think her name was even mentioned as a candidate."
The last time Americans and Soviets met in a Summer Games was 1976 in Montreal's Olympic Stadium, where a construction crane entrapped within its walls stood like prehistoric Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Through two subsequent Olympics, it was feared that a worldwide Games too had become a dinosaur, extinct in an ice age of conflicting ideologies. With Americans boycotting the 1980 Moscow Games and the Soviets returning the favor at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, 12 years passed.
Now, the waiting is over. The real Games can begin again.
Marat Gramov, chairman of the Soviet Olympic Committee, said the world was on the verge of "a new way of thinking, getting both countries a good foundation for a better ... international Olympic movement."
He said there were no socialist gains to be made by competing with the capitalist West. The Soviets' interest was "nothing but medals," he said.
While the Eastern-bloc Soviets and East Germans are expected to lead the medal standings, some real U.S. gold medal hopes include Ashford's track and field teammates Carl Lewis, Florence Griffith Joyner, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Edwin Moses, swimmers Matt Biondi and Janet Evans, diver Greg Louganis, boxer Kelcie Banks, a men's basketball team led by Danny Manning and more than a score of other Americans in such sports as women's basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, water polo, yachting and equestrian.
Scott said that Ashford being black and a woman probably helped her be selected, and Ashford considered it a distinction.
"I'm the first black female. That's history," Ashford said.
Ashford said she was so surprised by the news, knowing that Wilkins had been selected by the team, that she thought team manager Bob Seaman was talking about someone else when he informed her. "It didn't sink in," she said. "I got a thrill knowing I would be leading the team out."
In her first Olympics at Montreal in 1976, Ashford finished fifth in the women's 100 meters. Wilkins won the discus in what also was his first Olympics. At Montreal, however, the Soviets won 49 gold and 125 total medals. East Germany had 40 gold, the United States 34. America, however, finished second in total medals with 94, compared with East Germany's 90.
Without the United States present in Moscow, the Soviets won 80 gold and 195 total medals. And without the Soviets in L.A., the United States won 83 gold and 174 total medals.
Neither team can expect a repeat in Seoul. In fact, many Olympic experts expect East Germany, led by its powerful track and swimming teams, to emerge the overall medal winner from Seoul.
Of the 167 Olympic nations, a 161 accepted invitations to Seoul - a major embarrassment to North Korea, which tried to lead yet another boycott over the International Olympic Committee's refusal to let it cohost the Games.
While Madagascar decided last week not to attend for no expressed reason, the IOC said Friday that six Libyan athletes and six officials would be allowed by their government to leave for Seoul, bringing the total number of athletes participating to 9,633.
On Thursday, sources here revealed that the Libyan team was prevented from leaving the country. The sources said they did not know whether Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gahdafi was involved, but IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch sent a telex to Gahdafi on Thursday.
Though he received no specific reply from Gahdafi, Samaranch said Friday the team now was expected in Seoul on Monday, bringing to 160 the number of participating nations.
Along with opening ceremonies, events in five medal sports begin Saturday: boxing, basketball, soccer, diving and volleyball.