Through terrorism and lesser forms of international politics, through boycotts, staggering budget overruns and more hypocrisy than you can shake a javelin at, the Olympic flame still flickers. Eleven reasons why were saluted yesterday at the Hart Senate Office Building.

The first Olympic Spirit Awards was one of those happy experiences where one arrived a bit skeptical and left with a warmer feeling for sportspersons and sportsmenship at the highest level. Few expected the depth of emotion that would follow skier Billy Kidd asking if it would be okay to wear his cowboy hat "because downhill racing blew all my hair away."

A U.S. Olympian from each of the winter and summer games, starting with 1968, was honored, and the reason for there being 11 athletes instead of 10 was an entry -- Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner. Their presence indicated the awards were for more than winning, because an injury to Gardner forced those graceful skaters to withdraw before the competition began at Lake Placid in 1980.

The idea was to honor spirit as much as performance -- and that grand ideal got an unexpected boost from the longest jumper of them all, Bob Beamon. Trickle-down inspiration was the unspoken theme of the ceremony; Beamon reinforced it by giving his award back to the Olympic champion who had given it to him. It was de Varona to Beamon to de Varona, if you're keeping score, and the gesture was almost double-play quick.

In the mid-'60s, swimmer Donna de Varona had spoken to a group of disadvantaged youngsters in New York City. Among those who listened was Beamon, who said he had been sent to a public school for the incorrigible when he was 15.

"That inspired me," he said. "I'll never forget it."

Standing at his left shoulder, de Varona recalled that Beamon had mentioned this story before; she also thought something in the order of: is he about to do what I think he's about to do?

He was.

"I give you something you gave to me," Beamon said.

To get a fix on Beamon's leap for the ages required a mental measurement of where celebrating it took place. How close to his near-mythical 29 feet 2 1/2 inches was the reception area yesterday wide? About four feet short, it seemed. So to achieve the real-world distance Beamon had 19 years ago in Mexico City, he would have taken off from across the hall, soared the entire width of room 708 and landed at the other side of the head table.

For Olympic flashbacks, Beamon's was the ultimate available yesterday; his gesture to de Varona made it a memorable double, she being perhaps the most persistent force in women's sport in the last 15 or so years.

In the sort of partnership suddenly common in Olympic sports, The U.S. Olympic Committee sponsored the awards yesterday and Maxwell House underwrote them. Many of the winners, presenters de Varona and Dwight Stones and a couple of Olympians who dropped by to offer congratulations, Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) and Rep. Tom McMillen (D-Md.), competed when such help was unimagined.

"We don't want to lose that dream," said Kidd.

Kidd was the first U.S. man to win an Olympic alpine medal, a silver in the '64 Games; he was honored for overcoming injuries that kept him from realizing a medal in '68, and for remaining active in promoting his sport. He looked at himself in competition {the tape was black and white} and joked: "seems like I was in slow motion."

Then he mentioned a former teammate, Jimmy Heuga, for whom little has been downhill since he earned a bronze in the slalom in '64 and finished seventh in '68. Kidd told the audience Heuga has multiple sclerosis; another skier honored yesterday, Andy Mill, elaborated.

"There is a brochure about Jimmy," said Mill, "that says: 'It's not what they do to you, but what you do with what they do to you."

As near as anyone can calculate, Mill endured nine knee operations, suffered two broken legs, a broken arm, a broken back and broken neck. That was before his foot was hurt so badly he numbed it in snow to slide down the mountain in the '76 Games. He finished sixth.

Mill thought of Heuga, and of Phil Mahre, who a year before winning a silver medal at Lake Placid suffered an ankle injury so serious he was told he "probably wouldn't ski at that level again. Mill began to cry.

"I'm really emotional about my buddies," he said.

Mill paused and said:

"I can't imagine what it might be like if I ever had kids." Yes, he did glance, ever so briefly, toward his girlfriend, Chris Evert.

Gardner remembered his sour luck at Lake Placid, looked at his award and said to Tai: "This is the goldest medal we'll ever get." The lesson learned from the injury, he said, was "you can't take anything for granted."

Skater Scott Hamilton accepted his award for his mother, who worked through the cancer that would cause her death to keep his athletic goals possible; wrestler Jeff Blatnick remembered being befriended during a career interrupted by Hodgkin's Disease.

"I didn't know where to go," Beman later said of life before he actually jumped farther than anyone before or since in amateur track. "I had the wrong kind of heroes. She {de Varona} was the first one that meant something."