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In Case You Missed It- 16 Days in Lillehammer, Part I

By Daniel Wang
Associate Sports Editor

In case you missed it, the XVIIth Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer began two Saturdays ago. I have been a devout follower of the past few Olympic Games, both Winter and Summer, capturing hundreds of hours of history of videotape, many of which I have not ever viewed again. Because of changes made by the IOC, the Olympic Fever I caught from Albertville and Barcelona returned sooner than usual.

Thanks to modern technology and my love of the Olympics, I managed to catch a good deal of the events that happened. The 16 days were filled with the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Here are the thoughts that I had on the games in Lillehammer:

By tradition, each of the delegations dress as closely as they can to their "national outfit." (If you're wondering if the team from Bermuda came out in shorts, the answer is, "No.") Someone pointed out to me that the United States costume -- cowboy hats -- was not representative of the clothing of the Americans. Indeed, with all our diversity, what can be considered as the representative "American" clothing? ...

These Games, like all others, kicked off with the Opening Ceremony. Like every Olympics, Lillehammer organizers sought to do something different for the opening ceremonies. Until a few games ago, the customary Olympic Flame lighting ceremony was to have someone run up to the basin with a torch, and manually ignite the fuel. In Albertville, we saw the fire travel up a line, into the bowl. In Barcelona, a skilled archer lit the flame with a flaming arrow. In Lillehammer, the trend continued as torch-bearers skied for miles, using a means of transportation their ancestors had invented ages ago. Once the torch reached the venue, one brave soul would ski off a jump with it and pass it off to the next carrier.

I would have liked to see him light the flame while in flight, but I understand why it didn't happen. But I was impressed that the skier successfully executed the jump in front of millions, if not billions, of viewers worldwide. Interestingly, the person who made the jump was not the person originally designated to carry the torch. He completed fifteen practice jumps in a row, but wiped out on his sixteenth, the day before the Opening Ceremony. He wasn't seriously harmed, but his replacement stole the glory which was supposed to be his.

CBS and International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch commented about Sarajevo, the site of the 1984 Winter Olympics. It is ironic that a city, that once held an event that symbolized world peace and unity, is now in shambles due to war, they said. All of the venues are virtually destroyed, including the stadium, where 200 doves once flew out of. According to reports, the wood that made up the bleachers, are now saved to construct coffins. After the emotional speech, Samaranch declared the seventh edition of the Winter Olympic Games officially open.

The first two things that I found interesting about these Games were the time difference between Norway and Boston, and the nature of almost all of the sporting events. The time in Norway is about six hours ahead, meaning that some monumental, and not-so-monumental, occurrences took place while I was sleeping. I found it quite strange to wake up to the news that an American had won a medal, before I even knew that the event would be taking place that day. This difference also affected CBS's coverage of the Games, which I will say more about later.

The second subject I find fascinating is that most winter sports are a true test, not only of perfection, but also of rising to the occasion to deliver that perfection. In many of the events, the margin between victory and defeat are decided by hundredths, sometimes thousandths, of a second. One small mistake can cost a top placing, if it doesn't keep the athlete from finishing at all. This is even true in events where time is not the deciding factor, like figure skating. It's interesting how a lifetime of training can go in a very small moment of time. Sometimes big surprises can result. At Lillehammer, they did.

The agony of defeat

In the first few days of action, the agony of defeat was so clearly displayed. There are many ways of losing as a few athletes demonstrated: 1) you do not start, 2) you do not finish, 3) you finish, but way behind what everyone had expected.

Can you imagine training for a lifetime to get to the Olympics, just to have your equipment fail? Like any other competitor, men's alpine skier Franz Heinzer of Switzerland prepared himself to start both physically and mentally. But right after he tripped the wand that activated the timer, his ski binding broke, causing his right ski to detach from his boot. Luckily, he stopped himself before reaching the steep part of the course. As one commentator pointed out on Pat O'Brien's late night show, in such a situation, there isn't much you can do except express your anger. That he did, by repeatedly swinging one of his poles at the snow. It was quite an unfortunate event for "Franz the Fourth," as he was nicknamed for his frequent finishes in that position. This time, he was a serious contender for a medal.

American Duncan Kennedy met his fate in the luge. In his third Olympic Games, Kennedy was a serious medal contender, and he placed fourth after the second of four runs. He was doing quite well on the third run, but then lost control and wiped out at close to 80 miles per hour. Luckily, he was not physically hurt, but he still had to contemplate what could have been.

There was probably no one who experienced defeat as badly as speed skater Dan Jansen, in his fourth and final Olympics. Jansen had always experienced frustration in the Olympics, particularly in his forte, the 500-meter race: fourth by a hundredth of a second in 1984; falling hours after learning of the death of his sister in 1988; and fourth in 1992. Ironically, he was the undisputed favorite, having won virtually everything else. In the 500-meter event, he not only had the world record, but was the only human in history to have officially skated the distance in less than 36 seconds.

In these games, Jansen started off well, but slipped on the last turn and lost enough time to lose the race. He finished in eighth place, only 35 hundredths of a second behind the winner. The Olympic jinx seemed to continue.

It is fairly easy for anyone to imagine the kind of frustration that athletes like these had to endure. Everything falls with a minor mishap, mistake, or miscalculation. The athletes must wonder if what all their work will ever pay off.

American skiing silences critics

Congratulations to United States skiing team for its fine performances, against the odds that the media set against them. Major sports publications everywhere, including Sports Illustrated, criticized their performances and gave the Americans an outside shot at a medal at best. On the first day, media-dubbed long shot Tommy Moe turned in the race of his life to establish himself as the champion. So maybe he is an exception.

Dianne Roffe-Steinrotter made them think again, by matching the feat in the women's super giant slalom. The next day, Moe gave himself a nice birthday present by capturing a silver medal in the men's super G.

Kudos to the American lugers for providing the United States' best Olympic performances in history, in the men's singles and doubles. Even though Kennedy wiped out, reigning world champion Wendal Suckow took over and finished in fifth place. Even more impressive were the two American doubles teams, who captured fourth and fifth place.

While things are improving for American lugers, the world might see an end to the dominance of what was the Soviet ice hockey team. The Russians -- mostly made up of the old Soviet team -- were shut out for the first time in history by Finland, 5-0, and they lost to Germany later on. Many Russians have chosen the glamour and money of the National Hockey League. They might be able to pull off the gold, but things won't be the same in the future.

In late-breaking news, NHL players might be allowed to compete in the Olympics in 1998. Could there be another "Dream Team," like the United States basketball team of 1992?

Jansen finally medals at Olympics

Dan Jansen was able to make up for all his frustrations by winning the 1,000-meter event. In addition to winning the gold, he crossed the finish line in a world record time, despite two slips. CBS overdid the drama involved with the event, but I am impressed with Jansen's determination and perserverance.

It was interesting to see that almost everyone in the Viking Ship Hall, even the Norwegian fans and Jansen's fellow competitors, wanted to see him win. Although he will leave Lillehammer without a medal in his strongest event, his win in the 1,000 seems to be a combination of the right things coming together at the same time. All of the fanfare he received was truly well-deserved.

Although Jansen didn't break down in tears like many gold medalists, the medal ceremony was a memorable moment for all who were watching. After the ceremony, he had a chance to lace his skates back on, to take a victory lap.

The media's treatment of his victory might be a little bit too much. Yes, it is true that his minute and fifteen seconds on the ice will translate into big bucks for him. I have already heard many radio interviews, and seen all the hype given about him on television. Look for his picture on the box of Wheaties some time in the near future.

One more thing about Jansen: he said that when he took to the ice, he thought nothing about winning the race. He just told himself to go out and skate as well as he could. Even when he slipped, he did not panic. The result seemed to suggest that he skated up to his abilities. Perhaps the best things happen when you don't really expect them to.

Exciting weekend action

On Saturday, speed skater Bonnie Blair won the women's 500-meter, becoming the first individual -- male or female -- to win gold medals in the same event in three consecutive Winter Olympics. With four, she tied for the most gold medals won by a woman.

If she wins the 1,000-meter competition, she will match the five gold medals that United States speed skater Eric Heiden won in 1980. Her feat would be impressive, but Heiden did it in only one Olympics. ...

Johann Olav Koss completed a distance sweep by capturing the 10,000-meter event, to add to his 5,000- and 1,500-meter gold medals -- and he achieved world records in all of them. He smashed his own world record in the 10,000 by almost 14 seconds. These two feats are simply awesome.

Despite being an incredible athlete, Koss's win probably had something to do with having the support and inspiration of the home crowd. I wonder if American athletes will do the same in Atlanta in 1996.

A few days before, when Koss won the 1,500, there was something neat that CBS showed, in the little coverage that was given. After American David Tamburrino crossed the line and looked up at the scoreboard, he raised his arms in triumph. He did so because he had set a personal record, despite ending up 22nd, five seconds behind Koss's time. That moment seemed to be a wonderful demonstration of the human spirit. Pleasing oneself is probably many times more important than pleasing the crowd, even if is the entire world.

On Saturday, the United States ski team's medal-winning rampage continued when Picabo Street captured a silver in the Women's Downhill, further silencing the critics. Not bad for someone who likes to arrive at the site minutes before her scheduled start. Incidentally, she almost came late to the final training run. She jumped into her skis and straight on to the course, and ended up with the fastest time of the field, despite a few mistakes. Street also stands in second place after the first half of the alpine combined event.

On the men's side, Kyle Rasmussen and Moe are second and third, respectively, going into the slalom portion of the Men's Alpine Combined.

In the nordic combined, who would have thought that 17-year old Todd Lodwick of the United States would finish fifth after the first day? Despite finishing 13th, he vows a win in 1998. If he works hard and get experience, it could happen.

Despite grabbing only seven medals so far, the United States team as a whole seems to be doing pretty well. There were top-ten finishes in all three luge events and in the figure skating pairs and men's competition.

Besides the competition...

I made a difficult decision punt the LSC showing of Cool Runnings and Thelma and Louise in order to keep up with the action; I guess I'll have to rent the movie on videotape. Watching the Games, and trying to catch all the action was still enjoyable.

What was not too enjoyable, perhaps leaving something to be desired, was CBS's coverage of the Olympic Games. Many people agreed with me that there were too many features and too little of the actual competition. A little bit of that "Up close and personal" stuff is good to see, but CBS just overdid it. I really don't care to know all the stories of Dan Jansen's life and all the disappointments. I have heard all of those stories before. I just want to see him skate!

In the early going, CBS did not handle the time difference too well. I believe that someone from the Boston Globe pointed out that CBS really balked with announcing Tommy Moe's victory on the first day of competition. I remember that morning, when the commentator, whose name I do not remember, said "Here are the results of the men's downhill. If you do not want to know the results yet, then look away."

For most of us, the next Games will be held in the same time zone as our own. I hope that, for the purposes of entertainment, the big events will be scheduled during prime time.

Well, that's what I have to say about the first week of the Games. Expect just as much to happen in Week 2, including the possible finale of the Nancy Kerrigan- Tonya Harding drama. And do Katerina Witt and the pair of Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean still have what brought them to Olympic glory in the past? Stay tuned ...