Olympic Officials to Allow U.S. Athletes to Carry WTC Flag

The tattered American flag recovered from the ruins of the World Trade Center will be carried into the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and flown beside the Olympic flame, a source familiar with the situation said Wednesday.

The decision was a quick reversal of an earlier, controversial decision by the International Olympic Committee, which first ruled American athletes would not carry the flag.

Details still had to be worked out, but the source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said "athletes and other heroes" would carry the flag "in a dramatic procession to the flagpole" at Rice-Eccles Stadium Friday night.

Just a day earlier, IOC officials insisted that allowing the display during the parade would single out the Americans in a group of nations where many others have suffered.

"We considered this the highest honor of respect — the hoisting of the Ground Zero flag as the official U.S. flag," IOC director general Francois Carrard said.

The trade center flag will fly atop Rice-Eccles Stadium, next to the cauldron bearing the Olympic flame. But the flag won't be able to stay there for long because of the damage it suffered in the World Trade Center attacks.

Strict rules govern the opening ceremony. Athletes are prohibited from any political displays during the march and are required to parade under the flag of each delegation.

Each delegation will choose an athlete to carry their nation's flag at the ceremony. The U.S. flag bearer, to be announced Thursday, will carry a flag separate from the trade center banner.

The flag was recovered at the trade center site with 12 stars missing and covered in ash. It was given to American Legion Post 433 in New Providence, N.J., by an anonymous donor and presented to New York City Port Authority Police.

USOC spokesman Mike Moran said the flag was expected to arrive in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, accompanied by two Port Authority Police officers.

The USOC was looking for a way to acknowledge the flag in a separate ceremony, he said, and might have it on hand before the opening ceremony, when President Bush is expected to meet with American athletes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.