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DAY 1 : THE SEOUL GAMES : Enthusiasm Hasn’t Flagged : In Her Third Games, Ashford Excited to Be Front and Center at Opening Ceremony

Times Staff Writer

When Evelyn Ashford arrived at Kimpo Airport here Thursday night, Bob Seaman, the track team’s manager, greeted her with the news that she would be carrying the U.S. flag in Saturday’s opening ceremony.

It surprised her.

There were no tears or shouts of jubilation. Just a rush of joy at the realization of the honor her peers had bestowed upon her.

“I feel about 10 feet tall,” Ashford said Friday. “It does mean a lot to me that I was chosen by fellow athletes, that out of all the people who are here, they chose me. It’s so special.

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“I’m going to really enjoy these Olympic Games.”

Ashford, 31, will be competing in her third Olympics.

In 1976, as a 19-year-old student at UCLA, she finished fifth in the 100 meters at Montreal. She calls that experience “an eye-opener,” a chance to learn that she “had what it took to be a world-class athlete.” In 1984, she won the gold medal in the 100 meters. But that, she said, was not a joyful experience.

“I had so much pressure, and I had a small injury, that after I won the gold, I was just relieved that it was over. I can’t be any more honest with you than that. I was glad it was over.

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“But this time . . . this time I am thrilled to be here. I’m thrilled to be still running, and running fast, at 31. And I am so honored to be asked to carry the flag. I can’t say that enough. I am honored. I’m just the third woman to have that honor. The first black woman. I’m proud of that.

“It makes me feel strong. It’s a rush. It makes me feel like these Olympic Games will be special for me.”

The flag bearer is elected by the captains of each sport. Discus thrower Mac Wilkins, the choice of the track team, was not nominated because the track captain did not attend the meeting. Upset that he had not been nominated, Wilkins apparently later disputed the selection of Ashford.

Ashford was nominated at the meeting by Harvey Glance, a sprinter who had attended the meeting on his own.

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Ashford didn’t even march in the opening ceremony in 1984 because she was resting for her event, which was held a couple of days later.

“I was saving my legs then,” she said. “It’s a long ceremony and a lot of walking, and you get tired.”

She’s not worried, though, about getting tired this time. She doesn’t compete until next Saturday. And she’s not concerned about the weight of the flag. “I’m stronger than you think,” she said.

Ashford gushed with the same kind of confidence when asked about her chances for more gold. “This is the healthiest I’ve been, the happiest I’ve been, the most fit I’ve been,” she said. “I ran 10.81 at the trials, and I’ve never been that fast at that time of year.”

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She said that the birth of her daughter more than 3 years ago has had no adverse effects on her running. “There are a lot of mothers still competing,” she said. “I’m happy that my daughter will get to see her mom run in the Olympic Games.”

Ashford lives in Walnut with her husband, Ray Washington, and their daughter, Raina Ashley. Washington, the basketball coach at Mt. San Jacinto College, is here with her. Raina, 3, is staying with Ashford’s mother in Florida.


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