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Fourth-Place Medal

American athlete under fire for carrying Mexican flag

Chris Chase
Fourth-Place Medal

(AP)

A U.S. athlete is under fire by some in the Mexican-American community for carrying a Mexican flag after winning a silver medal in the 1,500 meters.

Leo Manzano, a Mexican immigrant who became the first American man to win a medal in the metric mile since 1968, draped himself in the flags of both his countries after his race at Olympic Stadium. That decision earned some cheers, but mostly jeers from Mexican-Americans.

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Ruben Navarrette Jr., a CNN contributor and Washington Post Group writer, was among those criticizing the flag choice. Manzano competes for the United States, not Mexico, Navarrette wrote. Why would he carry a flag of the country his parents left when he was 4 years old?

Some people will insist that this is Manzano's choice to make, that it was his sweat and sacrifice that got him to London, and this was his victory to celebrate however he saw fit. Those people are wrong. They're focused on the individual. But the last thing the Olympics is about is the individual.

It's about being part of a team -- the U.S. Olympic team. It's about national pride, not ego. Manzano wasn't there to compete for himself but to represent his country. All he had to do was decide which country that was. He chose not to choose.

What am I missing? Where were the Italian-American athletes waving the Italian flag, or the Irish-Americans waving the Irish flag? I didn't see that.

The last one is the money quote. We all come from somewhere. Not everyone is an immigrant, but every Olympian has roots. But did you see Danell Leyva holding a Cuban flag at his medal ceremony? Or Michael Phelps carrying a Union Jack because he has English blood in his ancestry?

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I talked to a friend with a Mexican background and she was vehemently against Manzano's action. "It's fine to be proud of your roots," she said, "but not in this context."

At least Manzano wears the red, white and blue. To me, it's even more offensive when athletes who live, train and hold citizenship here make the choice to compete for other countries because it makes for an easier path to the Olympics. To take one example: Milorad Cavic, the man who nearly beat Michael Phelps in the 100 fly in Beijing, was born and raised in the United States but made the choice early in his life to swim for Serbia where he holds dual citizenship.

A poll on the CBS Atlanta website showed that 83 percent of respondents think Manzano shouldn't have carried the Mexican flag. I believe it's more complicated than a yes or no answer, but can't disagree. Athletes with dual citizenship are naturally going to have competing loyalties and mixed feelings. Yet, when they step to the starting line with a USA on their chest, there should be no confusion.

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