LONDON - Whether they are rooted in arrogance or self-respect, whether they are more a reflection of mythology or reality, the words and gesture apparently hatched at the Opening Ceremony for the 1908 London Olympics will hover, too, over the extravaganza tonight to uncork the 2012 London Games:

"This flag dips to no earthly king."

The statement has at times been attributed to Ralph Rose, the ceremonial U.S. flag-bearer in 1908 who, in the modern Games' first parade of nations, refused to dip the flag to King Edward VII despite then-protocol to do so.

Then again the words, which also have been linked to U.S. teammate Martin Sheridan, apparently didn't emerge for decades and are thought by some to have been simply invented.

Meanwhile, the tradition didn't exactly instantly cement. Team USA indeed dipped the flag in 1912, 1920 and 1924.

Just the same, since withholding the courtesy with clear purpose at the 1936 Berlin Games, the U.S. has clung to the concept as at least an unwritten rule.

"The American team's refusal was unquestionably a referendum on Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany," Penn State professor Mark Dyreson wrote in 2008. "Most of the (athletes) and much of the American public agreed that they would engage the Third Reich in athletic contests, but would not dip the flag to Hitler nor embrace the Nazi regime.

"After 1936," he added, "the United States would never again dip the Stars and Stripes at an Olympic Games."

While some other nations have since followed suit, the question of whether Team USA should extend the tradition seemed to be a matter of some tension on the eve of the 2012 ceremony - particularly as controversy already looms over the fact the team's uniforms for the occasion were made in China.

Dip the flag now, and the USOC might be perceived at home as making another concession it shouldn't.

Hold up the past, and it could be seen here as continued high-handedness.

So perhaps it was no surprise that when 2012 U.S. flag-bearer Mariel Zagunis, a fencer, on Thursday was asked at a news conference about the tradition and her intentions, USOC chief executive officer Scott Blackmun interrupted.

"Let me take a crack at that first," he said. "We've talked about that a little bit. You never know what's going to happen. We have traditions, and Britain has traditions, and everybody has traditions.

"We're still talking internally, (and) we don't think it's a big issue."

He added, "Mariel's not even aware what the issue is."

Actually, she said, "Oh, I've heard of it."

With a smile, she added, "But I have yet to go through rehearsal."

Later asked whether the decision would be Zagunis', Blackmun said, "At the end of the day, we'll give the athlete some guidance."

After the news conference, Blackmun expanded.

"We want to exhibit the right protocol," he said. "And so when we looked at this question, briefly, that was where we went: What is the right protocol? What does the (IOC) expect? And what are other nations doing?

"And what we learned is there is no IOC protocol that suggests that dipping the flag is appropriate."

The specific IOC stance was not immediately clear.

While Blackmun added, "It's not something that's consuming us," it seemed the USOC indeed was concerned and perhaps conflicted about how to proceed.

"We don't intend any disrespect or respect by virtue of that act," he said, "and so at the end of the day … it shouldn't be taken as a sign one way or another whatever the athlete does."

What the athlete, Rose, did in 1908 evidently was a decisive and clear act.

But its motivation, Dyreson wrote, is unclear.

Some believe it was in response to no U.S. flag being flown above the stadium with the others, but Dyreson suggested that Irish nationalism on a team stocked with Irish-Americans probably played a stronger role than sheer American patriotism.

Whatever the reason, legend ultimately fed on itself and became interwoven with military customs to become a custom.

And how it continues to evolve tonight, perhaps with Queen Elizabeth attending, might say something about the strains of the early 21st century version.

TV today

• 6:30 p.m. on Channel 4: Opening Ceremony

Local connection

Athletes with Southern Arizona ties in upcoming competitions:


• 3:17 a.m.: Caitlin Leverenz, 400 IM preliminaries, USA

• 9 a.m.: Ana-Maria Montoya, soccer, Colombia

• 12:09 p.m.: Leverenz, 400 IM final, USA