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Olympic Spirit Awards to be Presented for Values, Fair Play - 2002-02-13

Olympic officials and athletes say the Olympics are about more than winning medals. The games are also about values, fair play and spirit.

After this year's games, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani will present the U.S. Olympic Spirit Awards to four U.S. competitors - two Olympians and two Paralympic athletes, who compete in the Olympics for the disabled.

Bonnie Warner was a three-time Olympic competitor in luge, and she narrowly missed a place on the U.S. women's bobsled team for the Salt Lake City Olympics. She is here for the games as a spectator and commentator. She will also help to select the winners of this year's U.S. Olympic Spirit Awards.

"Ninety-five percent of the athletes that come to these games," she said, "don't win medals, but they all have spirit. And that's what's so exciting about having a spirit award, is because we can recognize all the athletes. And all the athletes are eligible for it."

The awards were created to honor U.S. athletes who show courage, perseverance, commitment and vision.

Bonnie St. John, who is also on the committee that will select the winners, says these things are what the games are all about. She said, "Pierre de Coupertin, when he founded the modern games, said it's not about the medals, it's about the participation. It's the beauty of what the athletes do, and what they have to do to get there, the obstacles they have to overcome."

Ms. St. John competed in the Paralympics in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1984, as an alpine skier. She won bronze medals in two events, and a silver in another. Organizers of the Olympic Spirit Award say she exemplifies the qualities they look for in nominees. She lost a leg as a child, but still pursued her dream of becoming an athlete.

"I'm an amputee since the age of five," she continued, "African American, so I didn't have a lot of African American role models who were ski racers, and my family didn't have a lot of money. So I had to scrounge and borrow and beg to get ski clothes and skis and I got a scholarship to train in Vermont. And I really had to work hard to make it. And most athletes do."

Past winners of the U.S. Olympic Spirit Award include diver Greg Louganis and Greco-Roman wrestler Rulon Gardner.

Speed skater Dan Jansen was also a winner. He was favored to win a gold medal at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. Former Olympian Bonnie Warner also competed there. "He did not win a medal," she said, "because he had quite a few distractions with his sister passing away from leukemia. And I was sitting right next to him when he was talking about how much it meant to him to win that award. He said, you know, this is even more than winning an Olympic medal because this recognizes my character."

Ms. Warner says because of the terrorist attacks of September, there is a special emphasis in this year's awards. "I think a lot of what the Spirit Award is this time around is overcoming adversity, but also representing the American public and the American athletes in good spirit and fair play, because after September 11," she said, "I think there's a whole lot more meaning to terms like courage and heroes and spirit. It could be something that something that somebody's done before they got here, or something that happened while they're here."

The American public will select the nominees for the U.S. Olympic Spirit Award, voting at booths at the Winter Olympics and over the Internet. A committee of athletes will make the final selection. The committee includes former Olympic swimmer John Naber, ice dancer Judy Blumberg, and figure skater Brian Boitano.

The former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, is honorary chairman of this year's awards.