THE WINTER OLYMPICS

MAKING THE MAGIC LAST

BOB LEVIN March 7 1988
THE WINTER OLYMPICS

MAKING THE MAGIC LAST

BOB LEVIN March 7 1988

MAKING THE MAGIC LAST

THE WINTER OLYMPICS

Suddenly, the party was almost over. The days were dwindling away, and the other Olympics—the ones in the Calgary streets in which

Games-goers vied to have the most enjoyable time imaginable—were in their final,

frenzied phase. On the Stephen Avenue mall, under a sparkling blue sky, strollers gobbled fat hotdogs, watched jugglers and listened to reggae and rock. They traded pins feverishly, their chests laden with enough metal to make a general proud. They snapped pictures and jammed souvenir stores, trying to hang on to the memory—to their piece of personal and sports history. “The Stampede’s nothing compared to this,” marvelled Rose Deak, busily selling Olympic sweatshirts at the Tropicana shop. Outside, as a choir at Olympic Plaza sang Over the Rainbow, 28-year-old Brian Arnelien of Clifford, Ont., summed up the prevailing mood. “Nobody wants the Games to end,” he gushed. “If they lasted a month, I’d stay the whole time— that’s how much fun I’m having.”

It was a moment that defied mere logic, that could be de-

scribed, but not entirely dissected. It went beyond sport to something very much like magic, and not even the area’s troublesome winds could blow it away. During the last week of the Games, as calm, northerly air broke down the tumultuous Pacific flow that had forced 22 postponements, Canadians embraced a host of new

heroes. There was Karen Percy, the blond Banff skier who schussed to her second bronze medal (page 50), and Italy’s Alberto Tomba, who garnered two golds.

Canadian ice dancers Tracy Wilson and Robert McCall skated off with a bronze, while supreme ski jumper Matti Nykänen—the Flying Finn—soared to his second and third golds. In speed skating, Yvonne Van Gennip of the Netherlands and Bonnie Blair of the United States successfully assaulted the East German stronghold (page 52). But perhaps the best came nearly last: in a dramatic Saturday-night showdown, Katarina Witt, the dazzling East German figure skater, grabbed the gold, and Canada’s Elizabeth Manley —with a stunning performance— overcame American Debi Thomas to take the silver (page 48). “I’ve had dreams about this night,” said an exuberant Manley. “I’m so happy!”

Medals: As closing ceremonies neared, the Soviets held a sizable lead in the medals race, followed impressively by the East ^ Germans. The Canadians’ count at the weekend 3 stood at five medals—two I silver and three bronze— I and critics questioned z whether or not that was i sufficient payoff for the federal government’s $25million BestEver program. Sport Minister Otto Jelinek told Maclean's that the money was designed to encourage participation at the local level, not just winning Olympic medals. And in any case, he noted, the Canadians had more top-eight finishers in Calgary than in any previous Games. “I’m not disappointed in the performance of the team,” he said. “I’m disappointed for the individual athletes who wanted to do better.”

That seemed a far cry from the attitude of the United States Olympic Committee, which last week appointed a special commission to monitor the effectiveness ^ of its policies—and named brash 5 New York Yankees owner George W Steinbrenner as its chairman, g Committee officials insisted that m the timing of the announcement £ had nothing to do with the disap2 pointing American showing at 5 the Games: just six medals at the

weekend. But Steinbrenner—a winning-is-everything type, whose team has failed to win a World Series since 1978—was not so diplomatic. “Sure,” he said, “the medal count is the bottom line, whether you like it or not.”

The bottom line at the beginning of the week was that the Games seemed to be grinding to a halt. At Mount Allan and Canada Olympic Park, event after event succumbed to nine days of above-normal winds, which averaged 38 km/h on one gusty day.

Spectators grumbled. Organizers said that the Games might have to be extended beyond the ceremonies. Torjorn Yggeseth, an official of the Fédération internationale de ski, warned that the constant delays inflicted “mental cruelty” on the ski jumpers—and that winds could prevent Canada Olympic Park from being used for World Cup competition.

But Tuesday dawned clear and still, and a festive crowd of 80,000 thronged to see the twicedelayed 90-m ski jump.

“You can’t ask for a better day than today,” beamed spectator David Powers,

32, of Calgary. Nykänen took advantage of the conditions to complete a firstever sweep of both the 70-m and 90-m jumps, with Canada’s Horst Bulau leaping to a best-ever seventh. The next day Nykänen crowned his conquest by leading the Finns to first in the team competition—and, for the moment, the jury remained out on the future of Canada Olympic Park.

“I’ve never seen it so windy here for so many days,” said Bulau. “It’s really too bad it had to happen during the Olympics.”

Miracle: At the weekend, there was also no verdict on the Canadian hockey team’s quest for a medal. The dream of a home-ice miracle was buoyed two months earlier in Moscow when Team Canada topped the Soviets to win the Izvestia tournament. After a dis-

appointing performance the first week, the offence-weak Canadians needed a win over Sweden on Feb. 22 to move to the medal round with two points and a shot at the gold. But all they could manage was a 2-2 tie, advancing with a single point.

Meanwhile, the superb Soviets, although in disarray after a series of defeats in other international tournaments, cruised undefeated through the preliminary round to advance with four points.

That set up the inevitable confrontation between the Soviets and their Cato nadian hosts. With the U.S. squad eliminated in the first round, ABC TV g pressed for a schedule 2 change to position the So| viet-Canada game in 2 prime time, leading Cana5 dian head coach Dave

King to comment, “It’s great to be America’s team—North America’s, South America’s, whatever.” The show lasted until the second period, when the dominant Soviets began to roll up the score. Team Canada had only two real scoring chances in the entire gameshooting wide both times—and the final tally was 5-0. The Soviets went on to blast Sweden to capture the gold. The Canadians, meanwhile, mounted a stirring recovery, besting West Germany and Czechoslovakia—and leaving the home team with hope of a medal if West Germany could beat Sweden on Sunday.

Complaints: The Soviets also continued to lead the way in cross-country skiing, taking 13 of the 24 total medals. But the traditionally strong Swedes saved face by winning the team competition, and their star, Gunde Svan, topped the 50-km field. In the biathlon, the East Germans skied and shot their way to dominance. But in the two-man bobsleigh, highly favored East German pilot Wolfgang Hoppe—who complained that dirt blown u onto the track made going down it “like driving on sandpaper”—was upset by Soviet lanis Kipours. The Canadians did manage to score in the demonstration sport of short-track skating, winning one gold, six silver and two bronze medals.

And so the competition wound down. The world had come to Calgary on a cold February afternoon and, 16 eventful days later, it was preparing to go. The ubiquitous television cameras, which had transformed the area into a vast set and local residents into extras, would soon be carted away. The athletes and visitors would travel home to all parts of the globe. Ahead lay Calgary’s collective hangover—and perhaps an Olympian letdown—and after that the endless assessments of costs and benefits. But in the waning days last week, Calgarians seemed intent on making the magic last, on savoring the moment. “If I stayed here 100 years,” said Mick Butson, doorman at the VIP-packed Palliser Hotel, “I’d never see anything like this again. Never.”

— BOB LEVIN in Calgary

BOB LEVIN