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Unexpected hurdles for the Olympics

The 1980 summer and winter Olympic Games are running head-on into a series of political environmental, and other jolts: Item: Secretary of State Cyrus Vance warns the soviet Union that if it does not pull its troops out of Afghanistan by mid-February the US likely would boycott the games in Moscow this summer.

Item: Other top administration officials say they are seriously considering paying for part of the cost of having an alternate site to Moscow. Montreal, site of the 1976 games, reportedly is under consideration. However, Lord Killanin, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), says it would be "physically impossible" to move the games this summer. So he believes they would have to be postponed.

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Item. In Lake Placid, N.Y., the Winter Olympics are scheduled to get under way Feb. 13. But the IOC barred the Republic of China -- Taiwan -- from participating.Officials of that country have told the Monitor their 14 athletes will show up anyway.

Item: The rising tide of American sentiment against the Soviets for invading Afganistan is prompting stepped-up security for Soviet athletes coming to Lake Placid. Public demonstrations outside the "athletes' village" there are likely now.

Item. Lake Placid Olympics Committee (LPOC) officials, meanwhile, are racing against time to correct serious structural defects in the newly erected fieldhouse, according to US Commerce Deparment engineer David Evans. Mr. Evans was one of the officials who had declared the fieldhouse potentially unsafe.

Not the least of the worries facing the LPOC is that at the present time there is no natural snow in Lake Placid. While small armies of workers are toiling round-the-clock to cover the long cross-country ski trails with artificial snow, much of it has already melted and this segment of the competition may have to be postponed.

Meanwhile, a group called the National moratorium on Prison Construction is making plans to demonstrate against the intended conversion of the Lake Placid athletes' housing village into a state prison. Michael Kroll, who heads the group, says his organization has bought a number of tickets for the opening day ceremonies and will demonstrate there, releasing balloons and doing other things to capture news media attention.

The group opposes the conversion on the grounds that current US government prison theory says the best place to build new prisons is in or near big cities.

Through the years politics has played a major role in the Olympics, perhaps most notoriously when Adolf Hitler tried unsuccessfully to block blacks and Jews from competing in the Berlin games in 1936.

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However, controversy surrounding the Olympics appears greater today than ever before, magnified by widespread television coverage, which did not exist in earlier years.

"The President has made it known that we [the US] should look around for another site for the Olympics" this summer, says one White House official. If the US withdraws, it could be a severe political and economic blow to the Soviets, who have touted the Moscow games as one of the biggest events in their history.

So far, however, only a few other nations, chief among them Canada, support the idea of withdrawing from the Moscow games if the US does. Saudi Arabia already has announced a boycott. The Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland refused to go to the 1956 Summer Games in Melbourne because of the Soviet invasion of Hungary.


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