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New Flags Raise National Pride of Small Nations at Games

When Atlanta's Olympic Stadium is filled to its 83,000-seat capacity, almost as many people are watching the track and field competition as live in all of Dominica (pop. 90,000), an island in the east-central Caribbean that is making its Olympic debut in Atlanta.

For an athlete to wear "Dominica" across his chest on the world stage is naturally a thrill. "It's always every athlete's dream to compete at the highest level of whatever sport they are in, and the Olympics are the grand marshall of them all," says triple jumper Jerome Romain. "For me, the most touching thing was the welcome ceremony [at the athletes' village], when Dominica's flag was being raised and the national anthem being played."

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The Olympic movement has used the occasion of these Centennial Games to enlarge its tent, expanding by nine delegations that have never been included before, to a total of 197. Most are small island nations, as is Dominica, which was discovered by Christopher Columbus on a Sunday in 1493, thus its name, which means "Sunday." Once a British colony, it gained full independence in 1967.

To learn more about Dominica and its team, this reporter met with the country's delegation at the Olympic Village. Virtually the entire team was present for their first out-of-country interviews of these Games. Five track athletes and chef de mission Felix Wilson, a school principal, answered questions; only swimmer Woodrow Lawrence was absent.

Dominica is without a composition track or an Olympic pool. Lawrence trains in the ocean, which would have made him well suited for the 1896 Games in Greece, where swimmers competed in cold, open waters.

All Dominica's track athletes met Olympic qualifying standards, which is not always the case with small developing countries. All have migrated to the United States to train on quality tracks under coaches at American colleges.

Romain, who recently graduated from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, was a silver medalist at the 1995 Pan American Games, but was injured here and did not jump in the final. None of his teammates were pleased with their results, either, a fact partly attributed to the newness of the Olympic experience. But all have their sights set on the 2000 Sydney Games.

Wilson would only hope his country will receive more visibility than it did in the opening ceremony, when he says people in Dominica were disappointed not to receive even half a minute of their delegation's entry on TV until the next day.

"The Olympics is about sport and creating a world family," Wilson says, "but it has been tilted toward people who have been considered politically and economically powerful. The new countries should, like a newborn child, have been very much welcomed, not that the older ones have to be ignored. Something better could have been done, though, for the new countries."

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