BEIJING - Lopez Lomong, a former Lost Boy of Sudan who spent a decade in a Kenyan refugee camp before coming to America, will carry the United States flag during Friday's opening ceremonies in Bird's Nest Stadium.
"This is the most exciting day of my life," said the 23-year-old runner, who will compete in the 1,500 meters. "It's a great honor that my teammates chose to vote for me. The opening ceremony is the best day and the best moment of Olympic life.
"I'm here as an ambassador of my country and I will do everything I can to represent my country well."
Lomong, who fled Sudan at age 6 and was separated from his family, was sent to America after officials read his letter describing what it would mean for him to live there, and resided with a foster family in Tully, N.Y. He became a citizen a year ago last month and made the team by finishing third at the June trials. Lomong, the 13th track and field athlete to serve as flagbearer, is the first since Francie Larrieu Smith in 1992.
"The American flag means everything in my life," said Lomong, chosen last night by a vote of team captains. "Everything that describes me, coming from another country and going through all the stages that I have to become an American citizen.
"This is another amazing step for me in celebrating being an American."
The last time the Summer Games were in Asia (Seoul, 1988), US athletes got in trouble for stealing a mask. This time, they got in trouble for wearing one. Track cyclists Sarah Hammer, Jennie Reed, Mike Friedman, and Bobby Lea apologized Wednesday to their Chinese hosts for arriving at the airport Tuesday with their mouths covered by the protective masks issued to many American athletes concerned about the city's pervasive pollution. Though the athletes said that they wore the masks as a precautionary measure and weren't making an environmental or political statement, they apologized after a US Olympic Committee official told them their gesture was perceived as offensive. "It wasn't the best judgment at the time and the athletes understand that now," said USOC chief executive Jim Scherr. "Hopefully, it will be the last incident of this kind." US athletes still will be allowed to wear masks outdoors during the Games if they're worried about respiratory problems. It was indoor use that was the issue. "We deeply regret the nature of our choices," the cyclists said.
Like the rest of the world's athletes here, the Americans are giving a universal thumbs-up to the Olympic Village, which is said to be the best ever. "It's like a little paradise in there," said gymnast Jonathan Horton. "We've got streams and bridges and fishes in the pond. It's absolutely gorgeous." Swimmer Dara Torres, who said she was prepared for Spartan accommodations, was amazed at the hotel-like amenities. "I bought sheets and pillows and I just threw them in the closet," said Torres, who's competing in her fifth Games. "It's like being at a Marriott."
One less Hamm
Morgan Hamm acknowledged that it's odd for him to be at the Games without twin Paul. "It's definitely a little bit awkward," the three-time Olympic gymnast said. "After my injury with my chest, I didn't know if I was able to come back in time. I did, which is great. I would love to have him here." Coming into the season, Morgan looked doubtful for Beijing after tearing a pectoral muscle last fall and missing five months of training. Then he had to sweat out a doping inquiry last month after he took an anti-inflammatory drug without requesting a medical waiver. Until he broke a bone in his right hand at the May national championships, Paul looked certain to make the team. Though he was put on the roster anyway, the defending Olympic all-around champion had to withdraw last month after his left rotator cuff acted up. Paul may be here anyway, if only as a spectator. "Thinking of coming to China. What do you think?" he text-messaged his brother yesterday. "I'd love to have you here," Morgan replied. "Get on a plane." Still unclear is who will replace Paul as the squad's other all-arounder with Horton. The lineup is due Friday.