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Still steaming over 1980 Olympic decision - Bob Paslay

Am I the only person who sees the irony of this year's Olympics and the 1980 Olympics?

In 1980 President Jimmy Carter banned Americans from participating in the Summer Olympics because they were being held in Russia and the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan.

Now we are poised tonight to participate in the Olympics and we are occupying Afghanistan.

I started to call the Carter Center and ask them to find out if the former peanut farmer turned governor turned president turned poet is going to watch any of the coverage of this year's Olympics.

Or is he planning to boycott it because of the second invasion of Afghanistan and squirrel away and write more of that sorry poetry?

You might conclude from my tone that I am bitter about Carter's decision in 1980 and as you know we Southerners never forget and we never forgive.

I was never an athlete growing up, just a kid who did some sandlot things imitating sports. But I have the greatest and deepest respect for all athletes.

In all of 1980 and even today, I can't get this image out of my head. A kid in Iowa or Georgia or some far-flung part of this great land is waking up at 4:30 in the morning. It is chilly and dark outside and he is putting on his (or her) running suit and best track shoes and going out running along black stretches of road, flanked by trees and pastures and an occasional farm animal looking strangely as this specter. Or a swimmer is doing stretching exercises before swimming lap after lap in the deserted pool, with visions of Olympic gold swimming in his head.

And then because of some strange connection that even Ronald Reagan at the time objected to, this president dashes all their dreams and says we are taking our ball and going home.

Adolph Hitler tried to politicize the 1936 Olympics in Berlin showing that the blonde haired blue-eyed Germans could kick our athletes around. And along came Jesse Owens who took control. Superb athletics wins out over politics.

Some countries like Russia had athlete mills, doing everything to take full propaganda advantage of their athletes. And our kids who trained early every morning beat them.

We try so hard to make the Olympics about just that, great amateur athletes giving it their all.

Now forever, there is a gap in our Olympic competition and records. I don't like gaps, especially ones caused by pompous politicians.

I don't mind people making sacrifices that impact their own lives. If Carter had said he was so upset over the invasion he was not going to run for re-election that would have been one thing. As it turned out he might as well have done this since he got his butt kicked that year.

I am so looking forward to seeing this year's Olympics. When the Olympics were held in Atlanta, the U.S. men's gymnastic teams trained in my hometown and each day I would go over and watch hours of this practice. And leading up to Atlanta, the German gymnasts practiced for a week in my hometown also. And then I came over to Atlanta and watched all the events I could get into.

The absolute focus and determination, the finely tuned athletes. It is truly poetry in motion.

This is captured so beautifully and powerfully by the German filmmaker Leni Rieffenstahl. She died last September at the age of 101, dogged to the end by the fact that she made propaganda films for Hitler, including one on a big Nazi rally in 1934. You can debate whether she was a big fish in the Nazi movement or just an artist who took advantage of her friendship with Hitler to make fine movies. You can't debate whether she was a fine filmmaker. If you can find a copy, watch "Olympia." Hitler told the German Olympic officials that she was to have whatever she wanted to make her movie. If she wanted a trench dug beside the track so she could film feet racing along, they dug a trench. If she wanted an aerial shot they provided it.

This is what one website said about the film: For Olympia she had to manage a total crew of 60 cinematographers. Three different types of black-and-white film stock?Agfa (architectural shots), Kodak (portraits), Perutz (fields, grass)?were used to shoot over 1.3 million feet of film (400,000 meters, over 248 miles). In the process, Riefenstahl invented or enhanced many of the sports photography techniques we now take for granted: slow motion, underwater diving shots, extremely high (from towers) and low shooting angles (from pits), panoramic aerial shots, and tracking systems for following fast action. The result is considered a classic cinematic masterpiece. Olympia premiered at Berlin's UFA Palast am Zoo cinema on Hitler's birthday, April 20, 1938.

Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at bpaslay@news-daily.com .