The meeting ofteam captains to select the U.S. standard-bearer was held in a crampedconference room. Voices were raised, and those waiting outside could hearsnatches of the nominating speeches. The archers, modern pentathletes andshooters joined in a plea for Margaret Murdock, the phenomenal shooter. Herselection would repudiate the anti-gun forces in the U.S., who, they said, haveconspired to keep shooting from achieving proper recognition. Yachtingnominated Conn Findlay; wrestling, Ben Peterson; track and field offered discusthrower Jay Silvester and high hurdler Willie Davenport, both four-timeOlympians. And swimming put forward Gary Hall, 24, the three-time Olympian andnow a medical student at Cincinnati.
"A swimmerhas never carried the flag in the opening ceremonies," said teammate SteveFurniss, who briefly traced Hall's career through world records, thefrustrations of Munich—where he was highly favored in the 200 and 400individual medley but didn't win—and periodic retirements because medicalstudies prevented him from training. Then Hall said a few words about his loveof swimming and the honor of carrying the flag.
"The instantI touched the wall in the Olympic Trials and knew I'd made the team, the chanceof doing this popped into my mind," he said. He was prescient, because hewon on the second ballot. There was applause when the result was announced, andHall was surrounded by happy supporters.
A mild, graciousman with soft gray eyes and the swimmer's luminous hair, Hall said, "Thisis an indescribable feeling of honor. I'll be leading the greatest group ofathletes in the world, the U.S. team."
He was asked ifhe would dip the flag at the reviewing stand.
"Have weever dipped it?" he asked. "Does anybody else not dip it?"
"I don'tthink so," a fellow Olympian said.
In a low voiceHall said, "Well, I wouldn't change things."
Later Hallcarefully discussed the fine balance between his commitment to his nation andhis Olympian's sense of the Games transcending nationality. "There has beena lot of talk of how nationalism has been overplayed and how that has hurt theOlympics," he said. "I don't agree, for the reason that competition isa natural phenomenon. We can't change that. We should count our medals. Weshould know how the U.S. is doing in relation to the others.
"At the sametime, athletes seem to me to serve as examples for the rest of the world. Thefeeling of a common bond across national barriers through sport—it's soexciting it's almost detrimental to performance. Yet at each of the OlympicsI've attended, some political event has altered the feeling, the atmosphere.All the peace, the things the Olympics stand for, are forgotten when someone isnot allowed to compete. I'd rather take part in a game where what you callyourself, the flag you carry, what you object to in other countries, could allbe set aside. If there was any way the deciders, the politicians, could weighthe years of sweat and effort that they wipe out in one decision, how manydreams. It's unmerciful. It's wrong."
At the openingceremony Hall carried the flag tenderly. He did not dip it, but indulged in atentative little wave toward the Queen. By contrast, sprinter Raelene Boyle,carrying Australia's standard, dropped it so low the flag swept across thetrack.
It was a longceremony, preceded by a long wait outside the stadium. When it was over, Hallwalked away in a weary daze. "I had goose-bumps from my Achilles' tendonsto my forehead," he said. "I was nervous, and when we came out of thetunnel into the light and the crowd began to echo. I started trembling. I hopepeople didn't notice the flag was shaking."
Gary Hall: "It's an indescribable feeling of honor."