Bountiful resident Henry Marsh knows plenty about the success of Olympic boycotts.
Having been a member of the U.S. Olympic teams in 1976, 1980, 1984 and 1988, Marsh experienced first hand what happened when Pres. Jimmy Carter pressured the U.S. Olympic Committee and its athletes into sitting out the 1980 Moscow Games in protest of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.
Marsh was the heavy favorite to win the gold medal in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. But instead of standing on any podium in Moscow, Marsh read about the Games in the newspaper, thousands of miles away.
"Boycotting the Beijing Olympics would be a terrible idea," said Marsh. "Look at what good came from the boycott of 1980. Nothing changed. It made no difference in the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan."
In fact, the Soviet Union and most Eastern Bloc countries returned the boycott favor four years later as they sat out the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
China was one of the few Communist countries to take part in the 1984 Games.
"When we didn't go to the Moscow Olympics it hurt us," Marsh said. "When they didn't come to our Olympics it hurt them. It certainly didn't hurt us."
Marsh noted that by the Russians not coming to L.A., it gave athletes who would have been lost in the Communist mix that chance to become household names.
"It opened up opportunities for teams that competed in events where the Soviets and Eastern Block countries were very strong," Marsh said. "Some of the best teams in the world didn't come to L.A. because of the boycott and we won gold medals. It was great for us. We won everything in 1984 and there was all of this pride throughout the country because we dominated."
And in a world where young people have fewer and fewer people they can look to as role models, Marsh sees the Olympics as a place where such positive stars can be born.
"It hurts the youth," Marsh said. "Young people need role models and people they can look to and athletes from the Olympics often do just that."
Think Mark Spitz, Mary Lou Retton and North Salt Lake's Rulon Gardner, a farm boy from Wyoming who inspired millions with his story of setting and achieving lofty goals.
Rather than boycotting the Olympics, Marsh sees the Beijing Games as the perfect place to showcase what the United States stands for. In addition, it is a place where individuals from rival countries actually get to know one another as people, not enemies.
"Some of my best memories of the Olympics I did go to are sitting in the cafeteria and just talking to athletes from all over the world," Marsh said. "Getting to know these people as athletes and just people. That's what breaks down barriers." "By our athletes going to China we will have the opportunity to showcase what freedom is al about. We need to go (to Beijing) and show the world who we are."
Marsh understands and is appalled by the atrocities the Chinese government has brought upon the people of Tibet, but doesn't believe boycotting the Beijing Games will bring about any positive change.
"By sending our athletes we have a better chance of making a change," he said.
"Politics need to stay out of the Olympics. Our athletes will do much more good in Beijing than by staying home."