BARCELONA '92 OLYMPICS : Reveling in Spotlight of World : True Spirit of the Baron Keeps Marching Along

All right, Miss K., take a memo to Baron de Coubertin, wherever he is today:

"Dear Baron:

"About your Olympic Games? Those celebrations of youth and fitness you put into effect a century ago to produce a race of happy people who would never again have to go to war? Which would draw the whole world into a pageant of health and happiness and combat in sport, not in warships?

"Well, it's gotten a little out of hand, Baron. It's become a celebration of power and money. Instead of athletes, we're getting power brokers, ad hucksters, bickering boardroom types. They're using the Olympic Games to sell shoes, soft drinks, even postal services.

"There are more sponsors than there are players on the U.S. basketball team. The Olympic flag should be a pair of shoes rampant on a field of dollar signs. Instead of 'Citius, Altius, Fortius, ' the Olympic motto should be 'Sell, Pay and Bank.'

"But there's one corner of your Olympic ideal that I have to think is what you had in mind and it is alive and well and, this year, living in Barcelona.

"This is the parade of the nations that opens your Games. This is the lump-in-the-throat ceremony that sets the mood and tone of the event and is the hardest ticket in the Games because it's not about money or winning or records, it's about joy.

"This is where the infighting stops, the commercialism plays out. This is where the Games begin and end. This is what they should be all about.

"It's not just a parade, it's really a moment in history. Always a highlight. It's the only thing in the Games that hasn't been commercialized or politicized.

"Not everyone recognizes a decathlon or a pentathlon or the Harvard Four With Cox, but everyone loves a parade. I love a parade, you love a parade, the whole world loves a parade--and the whole world is in this one.

"It's fireworks and card tricks and it's a chance for the host country to show off its creative capacities and stage an extravaganza that C.B. DeMille would envy. It's overdone, over-staged, over-produced--but it's marvelous.

"It's a three-handkerchief production. As Marc Antony said, 'If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.' It's as wholesome as hot apple pie and as sentimental as a valentine.

"But what makes it is the march of the athletes. I didn't count them, but I'm told there were 12,000. Most of them seemed to want to get their picture taken with Magic Johnson, but they represented 183 countries, the largest number in Olympic history.

"They didn't really march. They straggled. They chewed gum. They waved to the crowd. They got out of step. They got out of line. They carried cameras. Some of them carried each other. They put their arms around each other. They chattered. They took pictures. They exchanged pins. They had a ball. You looked at them and you figured things are going to be all right, after all.

"You see, Baron, your Games are indestructible. Neither wars, nor boycotts, nor terrorists, nor Depressions, nor economic hardships can kill your Games.

"All of the above tried to and couldn't. That's because they're a spirit, not a thing. They transcend a track meet, a basketball game, a fencing match. They transcend sport.

"An opening ceremony can sum up more than any philosopher's dogma, any political speech how people are the same. They come in different colors, they wear different clothes, they speak different languages, but underneath, they're the same. People are people. Athletes are athletes.

"You could chart world history by Olympic opening parades. You look and you don't see America, or you look and you don't see Russia and you know the sabers are rattling.

"You look this year and what was once the lordly and populous Soviet delegation is now a strange raggle-taggle crew known as the Unified Team of the Commonwealth of Independent States with places such as Azerbaijan and Kirghiz listed.

"You look and you know Communism is gone. We may not miss the philosophy or the regime--but we miss the team.

"The Games were opened by a real live king, a Bourbon, at that, but he's not a throwback to the crowned heads of Europe.

"He doesn't wear a spiked helmet with a plume on it or a jeweled sword or golden epaulets: He has a two-piece suit. He looks like a King from Wall Street.

"The only uniform worn in the Games was on Fidel Castro. He drew boos.

"The Germans came as one team and General Ludendorff would be ashamed of them. They didn't goose-step, they didn't look like parade-ground troops. They straggled, too. They bumped into each other, stopped to photograph American basketball players and, in general, acted like teen-agers everywhere.

"You looked and you didn't see Yugoslavia, and you knew that politics still could rear its ugly head.

"The United Nations, no less, requested that the Yugoslav teams be disinvited, barred from the party for their belligerence and persistence in perpetuating civil war in their homeland.

"The president of the Barcelona Olympic committee acknowledged that his compliance had been sought--and agreed upon--by the secretary general of the United Nations.

"The Olympic parade gave ample evidence of the dissolution of Woodrow Wilson's great dream of unified ethnic groups: Splintered delegations of Bosnians and Slovenes and Croats marched instead of Yugoslavia and the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic marched instead of Czechoslovakia.

"Nothing's perfect, Baron. But, look at an Olympics this way: suppose you gave a party and everybody came? That's what happened this year.

"The head of the host committee, de Pasqual Maragall, spoke of 'the common language of sport.' And it's true.

"Sport, like music, is a language all its own. Love of sport knows no borders.

"In a century marked by regress and war, arrogant words and unfulfilled ideals, to meet from time to time to participate in sport, engage in a nonviolent struggle, may it be a celebration of the whole world. Long live the Olympic Games!

"Juan Antonio Samaranch, the Olympic head, called it, 'the greatest festival of contemporary society.' He told the athletes and the hosts, 'Baron Pierre de Coubertin would have been proud of you!'

"So, rest easy, Baron. There's lots wrong with the world. But nothing guns and fire and killing can heal.

"I like your idea a lot better. I like Dream Teams and world's fastest humans, and world's greatest athletes, and canoes flying through the water and arrows flying through the air.

"In fact, they ignited the Olympic torch by an archer firing an arrow into the saucer of gas. It's not exactly splitting an apple on your son's head, but it was an impressive piece of symbolism using an ancient weapon for a flame for peace.

"The Olympic Games do the same thing. They march for peace and brotherhood. And to get Magic Johnson's autograph."

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