Bid for Olympic Curling Team Casts a Stone for D.C. Voting Rights

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By Marc Fisher
Thursday, February 2, 2006

This is the rare idea that developed over beers and blather at the neighborhood saloon, survived through a couple of years of bull sessions, and is now poised to reach toward reality.

It started with this: Remember the night during the 2004 Summer Olympics when the U.S. men's basketball team lost to, of all opponents, Puerto Rico? When the guys hanging out at the Adams Mill Bar in Adams Morgan got over the initial embarrassment of that loss, somebody raised the question: Why exactly does Puerto Rico have an Olympic team?

Turns out Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands also have Olympic teams despite being territories of the United States. All of those places are represented in Congress by a non-voting delegate. Just like . . . the District of Columbia, which doesn't have an Olympic team.

Yet.

Introducing the captain of the would-be D.C. Olympic team, Mike Panetta. Mike does not sport the stereotypical athletic look, but we pride ourselves here in the District on breaking stereotypes. Mike is 34, a bit on the chunky side, more at home at the watering hole than the skating rink. He's a graduate of American University who works downtown at a firm that specializes in creating grass-roots campaigns for liberal causes -- the Sierra Club, Tobacco-Free Kids, that sort of thing.

Mike's Olympic event is, um, curling. You know, the Canadian sport with the broom and the rock. If you stay up late enough next week, you might catch a glimpse on TV from Turin, Italy; curling is the comic relief of the Winter Games.

"No offense," Mike says, "but curling looked like the only sport we could do. It's not speed skating." In fact, curling is an ice sport for which you don't even need skates.

Mike and a bunch of guys from his office and Ali Cherry -- "We're very inclusive," she says -- are so serious about this that they have actually gone curling. Once.

They even brought along the office Canadian, Kevin McCann. "Curling's in my blood," he says. "Because I'm Canadian." Kevin hadn't actually played the game before they all went out, but he'd seen it on TV.

It's okay; the International Olympic Committee loves amateurs. That's its whole shtick. Especially in the Winter Games. Jamaican bobsled team, anyone?

Enough snickering; this is serious business. In barely more than a week, the group's Web site, http://www.dcolympicteam.org , has won more than 400 commitments to the effort.

These guys are not out for personal glory. They are warriors for a righteous cause: They intend to use the Olympics to win national and global attention for the plight of the 500,000 D.C. residents who are democracy's forgotten -- Americans who cannot vote for a real congressional representative, taxpayers who have no say in how our money is spent, people who serve in the U.S. military yet have no voice in whether we go to war.


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