After staging four meets around the country and a swimming clinic in a Zulu township, the Americans returned home to find USA Swimming had banned them for two years, effectively ending their careers.
“It was a great farewell,” said Mills, who continues in the sport as a coach. “When we came back, there was no remorse.”
A time of transition
While the IOC hopes to get more clarity about athletes’ rights to speak out, stand up or simply wave a flag in support of gay rights in Sochi, Wallechinsky doubts Russian officials will bow to pressure to rescind the law or even suspend it for the duration of the Games.
The controversy comes amid a time of transition in the IOC, with six candidates vying to succeed President Jacques Rogge, whose 12-year reign ends in September.
Moreover, Russian officials likely took note, he said, of the IOC’s failure to hold China to the many pledges it made about openness, tolerance and the broader extension of human rights during the 2008 Games.
“I’m sure Mr. Putin learned his lesson from that,” Wallechinsky said.
Former U.S. congressman Tom McMillen, a Rhodes scholar and 1972 Olympian, said he felt strongly that athletes in Sochi have a forum for dissenting with the Russian law.
“The opportunity to express themselves as athletes should not be discouraged or grounds for disqualification,” McMillen said. “I think there should be an avenue for self-expression.”
Norman Bellingham, former chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee and a gold-medal canoeist at the 1988 Games in Seoul, said he hopes the world’s media will shine a light on the unpleasant issues of the upcoming Sochi Games — particularly anything that flouts the Olympic ideals of friendship, solidarity and fair play.
“It can’t just be ‘friendship and solidarity except for gay people,’ ” Bellingham said. “Just because nothing happened to Jews in Germany in 1936 [when Berlin hosted the Summer Games] didn’t mean that all was well in the Nazi state. The endorsement of that government should not have been given implicitly by the Olympic movement. You have to be very careful about that. You can’t turn too much of a blind eye.”