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It's become an icon of the games. Opening day ceremonies, 1984 Olympics, Los Angeles Coliseum: the American team comes onto the field. Leading them a man holds the U.S. flag high in the air — with one hand.


An estimated 88,000 people roar off the charts. Cameras click like ticker tape. The man carries the stars and stripes proudly down the track.

That was Ed Burke, my brother-in-law. He competed in the hammer throw at three Olympics - 1964, 1968, and 1984. In '84 he was captain of the American team.

Prior to the games, TV followed the progress of the Olympic torch as runners carried it across the country.

In the tunnel, waiting to come onto the track, Ed got this crazy idea: why not carry the flag like the torch?

No, wait. Think this through: all the other captains hold theirs with both hands. Also, unlike the others, the American flag's attached to a brass pole, and is much longer, and weighs a lot more.

Plus, the pole's got a protective varnish. It's a hot afternoon. Sweaty hands. What if it slips?

Nope. It's a go.

William Simon, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, was standing nearby. Ed explained his idea and asked, "Could you find sand, rocks, anything to make a good grip."

Simon dug around, came up with some sharp objects to scrape a good hand-hold.

Someone said, "we're on," and the team moved forward. As Ed came into the sunlight the roar felt like a detonation. He was thrilled by the welcome and glad to have honored his decision. He raised the flag even higher.

About 100 yards down the track, the flag began to get heavy. Then heavier. With at least 150 yards to go, Ed realized that "the blood had drained from my arm - and I couldn't feel my fingers."

So come on, switch to two hands?

No way.

A swirling wind picked up, and the flag began to sway. What had been a burden felt like a mountain on the move. "I tried to aim it into the wind." No go.

At the far turn, his right arm now numb, Ed "quickly changed to my fresh left hand. At that moment I saw Shirley [his wife, my sister] in the stadium seats. She stood up and called out 'Hold it higher, Ed.'

"I did. The honor of a lifetime and beyond."

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