Davis Phinney, one of the United States' best professional cyclists, was on a stopover in New York on his way to Majorca for the Tour of Spain when he got word to go no further.
His 7-Eleven cycling team had just withdrawn from the race. The reason was simple. The team members were so concerned about terrorism they didn't want to ride.
Phinney didn't argue.
"There is no reason to get killed over a bike race," he said.
The cyclists were not alone in their fears. Scores of U.S. athletes, coaches and officials are canceling or reconsidering trips, rescheduling flights to avoid certain airports, changing their wardrobes to get "U.S.A." off their backs, or, at the very least, expressing concerns about traveling abroad this year.
"This really is a time of flux in international sports," said David Prouty, executive director of the U.S. Cycling Federation. "I think we all are sitting down, looking at the situation and trying to regroup."
The constant threat of terrorism, the recent U.S. attack on Libya and the nuclear accident in the Soviet Union have triple-teamed U.S. athletes and teams on the eve of an incredibly busy summer sports schedule.
Pros, amateurs, adults, kids: it doesn't matter. The National Football League has to cope, and so does a girls soccer team from suburban San Francisco.
The United States Tennis Association will not send junior players to the Italian or French Opens, or to Wimbledon. The Phoenix Suns have scrapped plans to send coaches and players to Bulgaria for clinics this summer. Trips to Europe have been called off by the DePauw University football team, women's basketball teams at Rollins College and the University of North Carolina and an all-star field hockey team from two small Pennsylvania colleges.
There's more. At the last minute, a U.S. cycling team pulled out of the prestigious Peace Race through Eastern bl going ahead as scheduled.
"My first thought when I heard about Chernobyl was, 'Oh my God, another 1980 a U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Olympics ,' " said a Goodwill Games official who asked not to be identified. "But we think now we have nothing to worry about. Everything is go."
The U.S. team will be selected in competition in the next six weeks, but spokespersons in track and field circles said they have heard no prospective participants complain about going to the Soviet Union.
"Naturally, we've all kept one eye on Chernobyl," said Pete Cava, press information director of The Athletics Congress. "We're waiting to see what develops, but no one has said to me they aren't going to go."
There is a prevailing opinion among many, especially those in amateur sports, that nothing, not a nuclear accident, not terrorist acts, will prevent U.S. athletes from competing in foreign lands.
Robert Helmick is president of the U.S. Olympic Committee and president of FINA, the international swimming organization.
"Concerning terrorism, we see no new problems, no insurmountable problems," he said. "We are well-informed, we are researching the situation and we will continue to participate in international events.
"We have dealt with the situation since 1972 when 11 Israeli athletes were killed by terrorists at the Munich Olympics . We will continue to do the things we've done in the past."
Yet, a couple of months ago, in an unprecedented move, the USOC sent a package of information on international security to each sport's national governing body.
"It wasn't 'How to Travel in Europe on $50 a Day,' " said cycling's Prouty. "It was more like 'How to Travel in Europe and Stay Alive.' "
The guidelines are "common-sense stuff," Prouty said. Although no one within the USOC will disclose the specifics, it's generally regarded that the following tips, which are gaining acceptance throughout the U.S. sports community, are included:
*Teams are being instructed not to wear U.S.A. jackets, especially in airports.
The U.S. Baseball Federation will send a 20-player team to Holland in July. Players will be given two jackets.
"One jacket has a big 'U.S.A. Baseball' on the back," said Scott Bollwage, development director for the federation. "That's the one we will wear in the United States and Canada.
"The other jacket has a small 'U.S.A. Baseball' on the chest. I guess you can call that our foreign-travel jacket."
*Uniforms will come in different colors this year.
The national baseball team will wear royal blue in Holland. Sport for Understanding participants (not part of the USOC) will wear blue and silver.
"We're not into red, white and blue this year," said Frances Erlebacher, SFU information officer.
The idea is to have U.S. teams no longer look like U.S. teams.
"I've heard people say, 'This probably will be the first time that a coach doesn't get uptight when the team goes in blue jeans,' " said Ed Fabricius, director of communications for the U.S. Tennis Association.
"What I'm most concerned about," said Prouty, "is a local person with sympathies toward some terrorist group will see those red, white and blue jerseys go by and say, 'Hey, I can strike a blow for my cause,' sort of an impulsive thing."
*Nonstop flights are to be taken whenever possible.
Of 38 Sport for Understanding trips scheduled for this summer, 36 flights will have no stopovers.
At the Women's Tennis Association, players and officials traveling to Europe are pondering flights on foreign carriers, and out of Chicago, not New York. "You don't figure you'd be as much of a target as on a big U.S. airline," a spokesperson said.
The Rome airport in particular is being avoided. Mediterranean ports in general are considered off-limits by many, although The Athletics Congress still is planning to send athletes to the World Junior Championships in Greece in July.
"They're in Athens, which is why it's a matter of deep concern," said Cava. TAC officials have practiced a "run-through" of security procedures in Athens, Cava said.
*Publicity will be kept to a minimum.
Teams will not announce departure or arrival times. Welcoming committees will be scarce. Names and locations of hotels or host homes will be kept secret. Practice sites, whether they are for cyclists, junior soccer players or for the Chicago Bears, will be closed and, most likely, changed now and then.
"Keep a low profile," said Mike Moran, USOC director of media/public information. "Don't advertise blatantly that you're an American. That's the idea."
"If you seek publicity, you're asking for trouble," said Erlebacher.
It was recently disclosed that at a men's Grand Prix tennis tournament at Monte Carlo, a bodyguard sat in every Volvo chauffeuring U.S. players from the hotel to the courts.
Rob Hernandez, a life insurance salesman in Fremont, Calif., is coach of a 15-player girls soccer team that is going to Finland in June on a Sport for Understanding tour.
"I've received detailed instructions on what to do at the airport," he said. "We will check in three hours early when we fly out, then leave the airport and go to a hotel where we will wait until we go back and get on the plane. When we get to Finland, I've been told to get the kids out of the airport immediately, even if our hosts aren't there yet."
However, it's considered unlikely these guidelines will be followed to the letter.
"Athletes are different than your average tourist," Moran said. "Many of them are known. They have reputations. They tend to be flashier and younger than your typical older married couple on vacation."
Added John McGauley, director of news services for DePauw University, "When we made our decision to cancel our trip, we thought about a squad of 40 football players being more vulnerable than the average tourists. They tend to do things in a group and want to go to public places where there is a greater likelihood of trouble, like discos and shopping centers."
Phinney, husband of Olympic cycling gold medalist Connie Carpenter, dislikes playing the role of the anonymous American.
"I want to maintain my nationality," he said by phone from his home in Copper Mountain, Colo. "You don't really want to go out of your way to say you're an American, so I'd rather not go than have to hide it. It's certainly easier just to stay in America, at least for the time being."
Phinney said he still plans to go to the Tour de France race in July.
"I'm going to go unless there is some other disaster," he said. "It remains to be seen if the terrorists' reaction to America involves its sports teams."
Recently, Phinney met race car drivers Danny Sullivan and Michael Andretti at a charity banquet in New York.
"We talked all about terrorism," Phinney said. "It bothered them as much as it did me. You just hate to see disruptions in anything you want to do, but especially sports. Sports has had more than its share. But this isn't another boycott. It's a life-and-death situation."
Perhaps for the first time, athletes who pride themselves on their single-minded devotion to their sport find their attention diverted.
Phinney said teammate Eric Heiden was surprised to hear Belgian officials tell CBS camera crews to cover their network logos when filming Heiden recently. Again, anonymity was preferred.
On a recent trip to Amsterdam, a few days after the nuclear accident, top-ranked men's tennis player Ivan Lendl grabbed a morning paper to see which way the wind was blowing from the Soviet Union.
Now, every day, he calls Washington-based ProServ, the company that represents him, to check on radiation levels in Italy for this week's Italian Open.
Terrorism also is on his mind. "If anyone wanted to blow up Roland Garros site of the French Open in Paris , how could you stop it?" Lendl said at a New York tournament. "If you think about it, you go crazy. The more you worry about it, the worse you feel.
"You get on a plane, you just say, 'I hope it's not going to fall down today.' I know I wouldn't be flying to Beirut or Tripoli."
Actually, the U.S. State Department has issued a travel advisory for personal safety reasons for only one European nation: Poland, because of the nuclear accident.
Approximately 130 countries around the world now have U.S. travel advisories placed on them; about 30 are for personal safety, said Ruth van Heuven, a spokesperson for the department's Bureau of Consular Affairs.
The other advisories cover a range of issues, from currency shortages to hotel problems.
Yet, whether the word is official or not, the sentiment among athletes in this country is that travel abroad, if it is done at all, should be handled with care.
Hernandez held a meeting recently with his young soccer players in the Bay Area.
"This year, things are going to be a little different," he told them. "We are going to go over a little bit on the humble side.
"Let's face it. We are not going to be planting the American flag all over the place."