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U.S. team told: Show flag respect


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The U.S. relay team celebrate winning gold in Sydney in 2000.
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• Olympics 2004: Special report 
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ATHENS, Greece -- American athletes have been urged to tone down patriotic celebrations during the Athens Games as the U.S. team prepares to go into competition against the backdrop of a domestic doping scandal and amid security fears.

They have been told to treat the U.S. flag with "the respect and dignity" it deserves and not use it as a prop for extravagant celebrations, a U.S. Olympic official told CNN.

But there is no ban on waving or displaying the Stars and Stripes, said United States Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel.

"We have indicated to our athletes it is perfectly appropriate to wave the flag and when they do so they should wave it with pride and honor," Seibel said .

He said U.S. athletes had been told it was "perfectly appropriate" to display the flag in the Olympic village and to celebrate with the flag.

"We have also explained to our athletes the importance of treating the flag with the respect and dignity it deserves and also to display good sportsmanship towards their opponents.

"The flag should not be used as a prop or treated in a disrespectful manner," he added.

U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Jim Scherr said team officials were concerned to avoid a repeat of the controversial behavior of the American 4x100 meters relay team after they took gold in Sydney four years ago.

Olympic 100m champion Maurice Greene and his teammates took off their vests and wrapped themselves in the U.S. flag in celebration -- a reaction which Scherr said had been over the top.

"That was absolutely improper and something we have taken great measures to have our athletes not do," said Scherr.

"They didn't mean any disrespect. They were excited but I think those athletes would do things differently now."

But Greene, who defends his 100m title in Athens, said it was impossible to predict how an athlete would react to the excitement of winning a gold medal.

"This doesn't just go for American athletes, it goes for every athlete competing," said Greene.

"You don't know what they will do after winning a gold medal. Nothing is planned, it's done on emotion, you have no control.

"I can guarantee the athletes are not trying to offend anyone, they respect each other and each other's countries. We apologized for offending anybody at that time, we didn't mean it."

Greco-Roman wrestling medal hope Jim Gruenwald also articulated the dilemma U.S. athletes are facing.

"I'm an American and I'm not going to tone it down," said Gruenwald.

"Being an American means we're free. We have a right to voice an opinion. But we also have to be responsible."


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