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Cyclists want apology from USOC over mask flap

The four American cyclists who arrived for last month’s Beijing Games wearing black masks and were subsequently ordered to apologize for offending the host nation are seeking an apology from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

In a letter sent to the leadership group of the Athletes Advisory Council, an attorney for the four cyclists—Michael Friedman, Sarah Hammer, Bobby Lea and Jennie Reed—not only asked the USOC to apologize, but said the flap was “emotionally devastating” and adversely affected their performances at the Beijing Games, where none of them medaled and only Hammer managed a top-five finish.

The athletes were provided the masks before the Olympics by the USOC because of ongoing air-pollution concerns in Beijing.

“No athlete who has trained for years to become an Olympic athlete should be subject to such disrespect,” wrote their attorney, Christopher Campbell. “It was their first Olympic Games. They should have been in a supportive environment so that they could enjoy their Olympic experience and perform at peak levels. The false accusations, done in such a public fashion, was humiliating and emotionally devastating. It affected the Athletes’ performance.”

The athletes also want “an unequivocal statement from the USOC that they did not engage in any inappropriate conduct” and “systemic assurance that something like this does not happen to future Olympic athletes.”

The USOC did not comment Friday on whether they had received the letter.

Hammer and Reed were among USA Cycling’s top medal hopefuls entering the games, yet both struggled in Beijing.

Hammer, a two-time world champion, was fifth in the individual pursuit, and Reed finished eighth in the sprint after coming down with a flu-like illness during the Olympics. Lea led the men’s points race before dropping out of the event, citing fatigue, and he and Friedman combined to finish last in the 16-team madison race.

After that race, Friedman had harsh words for the USOC, saying he felt betrayed and insisting that he should have been allowed to wear the masks— because they were distributed by the USOC. More than 200 of the masks were distributed, but only a handful of American athletes publicly revealed wearing theirs at any time in Beijing.

“It is unfortunate that those that are supposed to support the athletes in their Olympic dreams were so quick to look out for their own interests,” said Andy Sparks, Hammer’s personal coach and fiancee, who also served as USA Cycling’s track coach for the Beijing Games.
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2008-9-7 -04:00
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