BOB LEVIN February 22 1988


BOB LEVIN February 22 1988



In the end, Calgary’s mercurial weather could hardly have been more co-opera-

tive. The temperature dropped to an appropriately wintry-4°C.

The wind whipped the flags around McMahon Stadium, and the sun, as if on cue, broke through a heavy cloud cover just in time to spotlight the start of the opening ceremonies of the XV Olympic Winter Games. In the stands,

60,000 excited spectators wore color-coded ponchos that awaited them at their seats.

From an overview, the spectators formed the Olympic rings, the Calgary Games snowflake and the Canadian flag. Down on the field, which was covered in snow-simulating sand, the extravaganza—featuring 6,500 performers aged 9 to 84—was an eclectic affair laced with a rousing western theme. Indians from five native Albertan bands charged onto the field on horseback. Two giant inflated dinosaurs swayed in the breeze, and Calgary Stampede chuck wagons came rolling on —discreetly followed by pooper-scooper crews. Up went the flags of the 57 participating nations, the largest number ever in a Winter Games, and the Lord Strathcona mounted troop escorted Gov. Gen.

Jeanne Sauvé riding in an open carriage onto the field.

Snappy: Then came the athletes, smiling and waving.

They were representing some 1,700 in all, headed by Greece, where the ancient Games began. The crowd cheered approvingly, saving its most resounding roar for last, when the 129 Canadian athletes marched on. Led by flag bearer and world figure skating champion Brian Orser, considered the country’s best hope for a gold medal, the Canadians were decked out in long red coats with white leather fringe. The noise level continued to rise as costumed dancers did a snappy two-

step, accompanied by performers Ian Tyson and Gordon Lightfoot singing Four Strong Winds and Alberta Bound. In the stands, the athletes and spectators stomped and clapped and started the ubiquitous “wave,” which went twice around the stadium, paving the way for the dignitaries. Organizingcommittee chairman Frank King, in a brown fur hat, declared that “the dream has become a reality.” International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch thanked Ca-

nadians for building such “splendid facilities,” and then Sauvé read the customary salutation: “I declare open the Games of Calgary.”

Electrifying: Eventually, 10 present and former Canadian Olympians carried in the Olympic flag. Some 1,000 pigeons fluttered out of the stadium, and the Games’ best-kept secret was finally revealed: to the rhythmic sound of Indian drums, former Canadian downhiller Ken Read and speed skater Cathy Priestner, two Calgary resi-

dents, dashed into the stadium carrying the Olympic torch, completing the 88-day cross-country relay. They stopped at the north end of the stadium to greet wheelchair athlete Rick Hansen, then handed the torch to 12year-old Robyn Perry, a Calgary student representing future Olympians. The freckle-faced seventh grader then climbed the final flight of 65 steps and lit the Olympic cauldron. With an electrifying whoosh it shot into the air. As the Canadian Forces Snowbirds flew overhead, leaving a smoke trail of nine colors, they carried the soaring hopes

of a city, a country—and a host of grinning athletes.

So ended the opening ceremonies, and so began the Games. In the very first competition, the West German hockey team scored a stunning 2-1 upset over Czechoslovakia. Immediately ahead lay Canadian Laurie Graham’s long-anticipated attempt to topple Swiss downhill stars Michela Figini and Maria Walliser. First-week excitement also surrounded Swiss alpine skier Pirmin Zurbriggen’s quest for several gold medals and the exploits of fearless Finnish jumper Matti Nykänen.

Transformed: Calgary itself was a town transformed, no longer simply a cow-and-oil capital on the prairie but, for 16 sportand party-packed days, a singular and curious entity: Olympic City. Its new inhabitants, many decked out in garishly colored ski suits, number not only the athletes but a media throng of 5,000 and 100,000 visiting spectators, including a VIP contingent with a smattering of royalty. The spectators, when not at the various venues, feverishly swapped pins, while the athletes trained, fraternized —and battled the inevitable jitters. “You’re worried about everything you do affecting your performance,” said Eric Heiden, the U.S. speed skater who won five gold medals at Lake Placid in 1980 and is serving as an ABC TV commentator for the Calgary Games. “You’re worried about when you train, what you eat—your whole life revolves

around the next couple of weeks.”

In the final days before the Games, life in Olympic City had its share of headaches. Chief among them was yet another ticketing problem. Last week Calgary police were investigating Calgary-based World Marketing Services Inc., a hotel and transportation booking agent. The firm’s offices closed on Feb. 11, and authorities said that they did not know the whereabouts of its president, Richard Allan. Police had not laid charges late last week, pending an audit of the company’s books. But according to Olympiques Calgary Olympics spokesman Terry Bullick, the firm apparently did not secure promised hotel, ticket and transportation arrangements with deposits it had received from groups in California, New York and Sweden, as well as some from Canada. The Calgary Tourist and Convention Bureau and the remaining World Services staff contacted some 400 people affected. And in an eleventh-hour effort, the bureau and OCO officials—and Calgary residents offering beds and extra tickets—attempted to provide what convention bureau president Robert Fleming called a “safety net.” Still, said Bullick, “after seven years of hard work, the slogan ‘Welcoming the world’ was really coming together. This casts a dark cloud.” The cloud, however, did not reach the athletes’ village on the University of Calgary campus, where athletes were living the good life behind a double chain link fence with an electronic

alarm system. Their modern student ‘ residences are connected by underground tunnels to a spacious shopping centre selling everything from souvenir spoons to acid-washed Jericho jeans—the latter specially cut to accommodate the oversized thighs of muscular Olympians. Other areas feature weight rooms, three cinemas— called Gold, Silver and Bronze—and religious services in five faiths. “You are treated like kings,” said Canadian speed skater Gaétan Boucher, a fourtime Olympic medallist. “And alI though you know you have to train and rest, even Olympic veterans walk around meeting people.”

Novelty: Such distractions can take their toll. Ben Lamarche, a 21-year-old speed skater from Ste-Foy, Que., admits that his enjoyment of village life in Sarajevo in 1984 contributed to his poor showing on the ice. “I was running around,” said Lamarche, “trying to meet as many people as I could, thinking about how much fun I was having. Now,

I can still do that but also think about the races.” Canadian ski jumper Horst Bulau was also trying to maintain his focus, ignoring his competitors and the added pressures of the home crowd. Last week, as 7,000 children watched skiers fly off the 70-m ramp in a practice session at Canada Olympic Park—“It’s | suicide,” exclaimed 12-year-old James McCorquodale—the red-suited Bulau, gliding up after a jump, said: “The important thing is just to make your own jumps and not worry about everybody

else. Because if you worry, you’re going to screw yourself right up.”

Other athletes, however, were walking distractions in themselves. Last week the recently formed Jamaican bobsleigh team—more of a curiosity than a contender—held a promotional party at a Greek restaurant in Calgary, where it raffled off a trip to Jamaica and sold $30 souvenir sweatshirts. Crowds

lined up in the street to get in. And despite the team’s novelty status, its 25year-old captain, Dudley Stokes, proclaimed, “We’ll have a significant impact on the bobsleigh world in particular and the world in general.” At Olympic Plaza in downtown Calgary, where medal ceremonies are being held each night, John Hildebrand was taking no chances. Standing in a small plaza-side

trailer from which his Winnipeg firm, Century 21 Studios, was supplying sound for the ceremonies, Hildebrand stressed that he had tapes of all 57 participating countries—including Jamaica. “If the Jamaicans happen to win,” he said with a smile, “we’d better be able to play their national anthem or we’re in deep trouble.” Thrill: CTV, the host broadcaster for the Games, is also under extreme pressure. The 1,400-member team has the mammoth $55-million job of supplying video feeds of every event to broadcasters around the world. But last weekbehind the tight airportstyle security of the broadcast centre—Phyllis Switzer, the host team’s managing direc-

tor, downplayed the pressure and savored that day’s coverage of the first Olympic practice run at Mount Allan. “That was a virgin mountain,” she said. “It never had a proper television installation, and there were some people in the business who said we’d never do it. But I watched the coverage today and listened to the skis and the breaths and could almost hear the wind in the trees. And I’ll tell you, that was the greatest thrill of my life.”

Bazaar: Meanwhile, pin trading

had become an unmitigated mania. The most spirited action was at the Coca-Cola-sponsored International Plaza tent in downtown Calgary, a cross between a Middle Eastern bazaar and a baseball-card convention. And few traders there were as busy as 63-year-old New Yorker Victor Cornell, who claimed to have amassed about 2,000 pins in 40 years of collecting. Trading with Cornell last week, Calgary bus driver Reginald Bennett, 28, received two Moscow bears, one each for his two young sons. “I get the fun of trading,” said Bennett, “and they get the fun of receiving.” For spectators and athletes alike, the fun of Olympic City was only beginning. But for the athletes, the enjoyment came spiked with an Olympic-sized imperative: to go—in the words of the official motto—“Faster, higher, stronger.” And in the words of the athletes’ oath, they do it all “for the glory of sport.”