THE annual voting for the United States Olympic Hall of Fame is an activity guaranteed to produce controversy. It's tough enough trying to choose the top athletes in a single sport for a single year, let alone picking from among thousands of athletes in dozens of sports over a period of nearly an entire century. Perhaps it's not so surprising under the circumstances, but over the years a number of amazing (to this writer) omissions have occurred in the nominating and voting by members of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. Some of these have been rectified in later elections, but some are still all too apparent.
The hall got its start six years ago with the election of a 20-member ``charter class'' led by Jesse Owens and including such other luminaries as Mark Spitz, Jim Thorpe, Bob Mathias, and Mildred (Babe) Didrikson.
The most glaring omission on the original ballot was decathlete Milt Campbell, who won a silver medal behind Mathias in 1952 and defeated Rafer Johnson for the gold in '56. His name appeared on subsequent ballots, but he still hasn't been elected.
A second example of inequity is the bypassing of Andrea Mead Lawrence, who competed in three Winter Games and whose slalom and giant slalom victories in 1952 make her the only American skier with two Olympic gold medals. Another is Tommy Kono, who won the gold in weight lifting in 1952 and '56, plus a silver in '60. Still another is six-time Olympic equestrian star Bill Steinkraus (see accompanying story).
Several changes have occurred in the voting procedures in an attempt to achieve a more equitable balance among different sports and eras. This year's effort consists of setting up three categories, with two athletes to be elected from track and field and aquatics, two from all other summer sports, and one from the winter sports. All candidates are from 1948 or later, with a veterans' committee empowered to elect one athlete from earlier games.