Politics versus Sport: Local Olympians speak out about Olympic torch protest
April 8, 2008
Activists opposing China’s human rights policies and a recent crackdown on Tibet may protest the Olympic torch’s run through San Francisco today, but some Tahoe Truckee Olympians say the games are not the appropriate platform for such demonstrations.
“It’s hard to see politics brought into [the Olympics],” said Stacey Cook, a Truckee High graduate who competed in downhill skiing events at the 2006 Olympic games in Torino, Italy. “And bringing down athletes who should be getting recognized … instead of protesters getting recognized for holding a sign up.”
Olympic organizers canceled the final leg of the torch’s run through Paris, Monday after demonstrators scaled the Eiffel Tower, grabbed for the flame and forced security officials to repeatedly snuff out the torch and transport it by bus. London saw a similar scenario the day before, with activists grabbing at the Olympic torch, blocking its path and trying to snuff out its flame.
And more demonstrations are expected today in San Francisco. Three activists already scaled the Golden Gate Bridge Monday to protest China’s human rights record.
These political demonstrations, local athletes said, are a “double-edged” sword. While local Olympians oppose China’s human rights record, they said the protests taint the true meaning and symbolism the Olympic games stand for.
“Goodwill, prosperity, and equality to all,” said Debbie Meyer, a three-time gold medalist for women’s swimming who now coaches the Truckee Tahoe Swim Team, when asked about Olympian ideals. “And just peace, general peace. It’s 16 days of good, general competition.”
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Meyer, who competed in the 1968 Olympics, said the recent protests bring back memories of the demonstrations surrounding the games she went to in Mexico City. Riots broke out in the days preceding Mexico’s games and hundreds of students were killed in Tlatelolco massacre, just 10 days before the opening ceremonies.
“Students were protesting because people were spending so much money on the games and not on the poor,” Meyer said.
Meyer also said she had many friends who were never able to compete in the Olympics because the U.S. boycotted the games in 1980.
“Granted, [the Olympics] are a good place to stand and be noticed regarding your issues,” said Debbie Meyer, a three-time gold medalist who now coaches the Tahoe Truckee Swim Team. “But there are other ways to do it … You’re questioning people’s dreams.”
Daron Rahlves, a three-time Olympian for downhill skiing and Truckee resident, said the protests surrounding the Olympic torch send a “mixed statement.”
“People pay attention to [the torch’s run] around the world,” Rahlves said. “It’s definitely a great platform for somebody to get their point across. But you know, it’s going back to that double-edged sword … [The protests] are not what [the torch run] is really about. It’s about celebrating a united world and the Olympic spirit.”
When Norm Sayler skied the Olympic torch down Donner Summit to prepare for the 1960 games at Squaw Valley, the controversy was absent.
“The torch thing, oddly enough, when I carried it, I didn’t think it was any big deal,” Sayler said, even though a large crowd gathered down at Donner Lake to meet the end of his procession and his march was recorded in a prominent newspaper article.
For Sayler, politics and the Olympics should be separated.
“The Olympic games should be 100 percent for the athletes,” he said. “And now it’s gotten so political, in many ways ” not just little ways.”
But for Candace Cable, who has participated in five summer and five winter para-Olympic games, the Olympics have never been free of politics. And she said the games should use their ideals, which are innately political, to bring awareness and face human rights issues head-on, especially when it comes to these games in China.
“People are looking,” at the Olympic torch run, Cable said. “And once they’re looking, they start to question. And once they start to question, they’re seeking answers. And if the answers don’t fit, then they start to seek more.”
Cable, who has carried the torch three times, as well as a flag during the opening ceremonies in Salt Lake City, Utah, said she would have loved to carry the torch today in San Francisco, if given the opportunity.
“But I have had my chance,” she said. “And been extremely fortunate to have done it … when I carried the torches, I felt that whole Olympic spirit of (connection,) of being the best I could be.”
-“The Associated Press contributed to this article