The Olympic flame came down from Mount Olympus yesterday, heading north for the 1980 Games in Moscow. When it arrives, American sports officials, if not athletes, will be there to greet it.
The realization that some American officials will be in Moscow to attend meetings of international sports federations has sparked a note ofironic discord among athletes who are forbidden from attending the Games.
"I hope they have a nice time," said marathoner Tom Fleming. "I hope they have a nice vacation. I hope it rains every damned day."
Bill Rodgers, who would have been the favorite to win the marathon gold medal in Moscow, said, "It was never a real boycott. It was always lacking in credibility. Now it's falling apart more and more. The Australians are increasing wheat shipments to Russia and meanwhile saying, 'We support you.'
"We've been sold down the river. The really unfortunate ones are the athletes who were for the boycott. They really look like fools."
Don Kardong, who was fourth in the maration in the 1976 Games, put it more simply: "This takes a hell of a lot of chutzpah," he said.
Swimmer Jesse Vassallo, who lost interest in the sport and stopped training for three months after the boycott was announced, said, "I don't understand. Isn't there a boycott, nobody going?"
Major international sports congresses are generally held every four years at the site of the Olympic Games as a matter of convenience, according to Col. F. Don Miller, executive director of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Often federation officials are elected at these meetings, he said, and policy decisions are made.
The Carter administration approved the trips by various American sports officials s o that key positions in the federations, and American influence, in general, would not be lost, according to Joseph Onek, deputy counsel to the president.
Willie Davenport, who has competed in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, said, "They're gonna lose their positions on various boards? Well, the hell with it. We're losing our position in the record books."
Kardong was equally unimpressed with the reasoning. "They're saying they need to be there or the structure of sport will be damaged. How much more damaged can it get? Isn't this supposed to be a national security issue?"
"What we objected to all along is that the boycott is specific to us," he continued. "It doesn't apply to any other U.S. citizens (there will be about 1,500 spectators and 150 media). This is just one more absurdity."
Miller says the athletes are being "short-sighted."
He pointed out that in April, when the USOC voted to approve the boycott, an athlete representative said, at the executive board meeting. "We don't want the representatives not to go because it is an extremely important forum for representation."
The need to preserve American influence in policy making and prevent "socialist countries from dominating . . . is the reason the USOC subsidizes two trips per year for the national governing bodies to international federation meetings," he said.
Round-trip economy airfare to Moscow will be paid by the USOC for officials who have not used up their two trips.
The USOC and the White House have asked officials making the trip not to remain as spectators or to participate in the Games as official scorers and judges. But according to Miller, they cannot prevent it.
(The USOC voted in April not to provide funding for officials who might want to assist in the running of the Games).
Ed Williams, the chairman of the Athletes Advisory Council to the USOC, said that based on conversations with officials of some federations there is concern that some may elect to stay on in Moscow and participate as scorers.
"What we don't want is business as usual for the officials," he said.
William says that he does not object to officials, attending meetings, he would object "to those going over as a joy ride. If they're going to go over and take their wives and make it a junket, there's going to be hell to pay."
Swimmer Joe Bottom said there's always been a double standard. "I've been to banquets where they have a buffet for the athletes, and a fancy sit-down dinner for the officials, with drinks that aren't served to swimmers."
Fleming said: "Some big, fat officials, former athletes who've forgotten, will be over there watching Lasse Viren win his fourth and fifth gold medals and we can't even watch on color television."
And there is great uncertainty about what the athletes will be doing. Track and field meets scheduled for July at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia have been canceled.
Both Rodgers and Fleming believe that the boycott will have a long-range impact on American athletic performance. "If you look at the world records that have been set in the last two or three months in swimming and track and field, they're all set by East Germans. Poles and Russians," said Rodgers. "They're moving ahead, while we're losing momentum. We are also losing our positions."
Benji Durden, who earned a position on the Olympic marathon team, when he finished second in the trials last month with a 2:10:41, accepts the reason for the officials' attendance.
"If they want to go, let them go," he said. "They can't hurt me anymore than they already have . . . But It's frustrating.
"And I'll tell you something else that's frustrating," he continued. "I got a letter this morning from the USOC. It says, 'We're attempting to find a competition you might be interested in attending at USOC expense. Do you have any ideas?'"