For Tony Diamond, who tried unsuccessfully to make the 1956 U.S. Olympic marathon team, yesterday's jog from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol was more than a little sentimental.
He was carrying the Olympic torch, lit only a few days ago in Olympia, Greece, the site of the ancient Olympics and a short distance from where his parents were born.
But for hundreds of other Washington-area residents who jogged behind the 50-year-old government employe or watched as the torch was borne through the streets of Fairfax County, Alexandria, Arlington County, Washington and Prince George's County, the experience was more like the chill of victory and the agony of cold feet.
How cold and windy was it as the two-foot torch traveled the Washington leg of its 1,000-mile U.S. journey to the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.?
Cold enough that the Mount Vernon High School Symphonic Band did not play the National Anthem at George Washington's Mount Vernon home for fear that their instruments would stick to their lips.
Windy enough that the torch kept going out.
Cold enough that pupils from The Rev. Thomas Daniels' Greek Orthodox School chanted an un-Olympic-like cheer at the Lincoln Memorial: "We want heat! We want heat!"
Yet about 500 people showed up in blustery, sub-freezing weather at Mount Vernon to welcome the torch carriers, another 300 at both the Alexandria Bicentennial Center and the Lincoln Memorial and 500 at the Capitol.
The ceremonies and speech-making were mercifully brief, but as Murray Felsher, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientist, and others said, the torch being carried through the nation's capital was "a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Felsher, like most of the joggers who trailed Diamond to the Capitol, will never participate in the Olympics, but he and others said they were there to celebrate the spirit of the games.
"I don't take running very seriously," he said. "But I do take trying very seriously."
Warren LeHeist, who works for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said it was the "chance of a lifetime to run with the torch bearer. Who knows when they're going to come back? We checked the wind chill factor (about 6 degrees below zero) and decided we were crazy enough to come."
Torch bearer Diamond, a NASA systems analyst, said he was taking nine days of his vacation to carry the torch -- along with 51 other men and women in turns -- from Yorktown, Va., to Lake Placid. By the time he gets to the Olympic Village, he said he will have run about 25 miles with the torch and another 50 as an escort for other torch bearers.
Diamond and 51 others were picked to carry the torch from more than 6,000 other applicants -- one runner from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Lake Placid. Besides being required to run at a pace of a mile every 8 1/2 minutes, the torch bearers -- 26 men and 26 women -- were questioned about their professional and cultural interests in the hope that those selected would represent the ancient Greek ideal of the "Whole Person."
Among others, the torch bearers include a doctor, a minister, a lawyer, a lobsterman, seven college students, a plumber, four housewives and an automobile factory worker. They range in age from 15 to 57.
Most people interviewed at the various stops yesterday said they agreed that the United States should boycott the Summer Olympics in Moscow if Russia does not withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.
Rep. Herbert E. Harris II (D-Va.) told the crowd at Mount Vernon that it was "good that we honor the Olympic spirit here, while we take a firm stand on the summer games, which cannot be condoned in Moscow while individual freedoms are being violated."
"The U.S. feels very deeply about what has happened in Afghanistan," Sen. Jacob K. Javits (R-N.Y.) said at the Capitol. "While we engage in those protests (of the Russian invasion) and seek to lead the world in the same direction, I hope we will keep in mind that we want the Olympic tradition to carry on . . . in peace and concord between all nations.
"And that includes us and the Soviet Union -- if they would only give the world the chance to let us all enjoy peace and justice together," Javits said. w
Then the torch carriers headed out Rte. 1 through Prince George's County to Baltimore, where they spent last night. They are scheduled to reach Lake Placid next Friday night.