Soviets, East Germans monopolize medals; Boitano wins first US gold

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

A number of disparate developments marked the first week of the 15th Olympic Winter Games. They ranged from huge medal hauls by the Soviets and East Germans to a spate of heartbreaking developments for several North American athletes; from an overnight craze for an unlikely British ski jumper, to an almost disconcerting lack of snow and cold, to an outpouring of enthusiasm by Calgarians and their visitors for the first Winter Games on Canadian soil. The biggest jolt to citizens from Newfoundland to British Columbia is that men's figure skating world champion Brian Orser could not win the gold. He was Canada's best hope for an Olympic championship, but couldn't overtake American arch rival Brian Boitano, who turned in a virtually flawless long program to hold his narrow lead.

You could have flipped the gold medal to determine the winner, it was that close.

Barring an upset, Canada is now in danger of going gold medal-less in the second Canadian-hosted Olympics, just as it did in the summer of 1976 at Montreal.

Recommended: 2012 London Olympics quiz: Are you ready for a gold medal?

If Orser's silver was a disappointment, a downhill ski bronze by Karen Percy was a pleasant surprise. Percy has basically been the understudy to fellow Canadian Laurie Graham. But Karen is from Banff, only a short drive from Mt. Allan's Olympic slope, and she had spent part of last summer hiking the the course to familiarize herself with the contours.

The experience paid off on a day when the favorites, including defending champion Michela Figini and her Swiss teammate Maria Walliser, couldn't find the right line. Percy held the lead briefly, but saw it bettered first by surprise gold medalist Marina Kiehl of West Germany and then by 1/100th of a second by Switzerland's Brigitte Oertli.

The men's downhill ran more true to form, with Swiss favorites Pirmin Zurbriggen and Peter Mueller finishing 1-2.

Meanwhile, the Big Red and Big Blue machines, the Soviets and East Germans, go right on racking up medals.

The success of the USSR, which collected 15 medals including 5 gold in the first week, is easier to grasp, given the country's vast size and population. The Soviets still haven't figured out a way to cop an Alpine medal, but maybe that's because they refused to build a mountain like the one at Nakiska that is the site of the Alpine events here. They did, however, build a Nordic track that resembles the Canmore layout, and it shows in the results here - two medals in each of the first four cross-country races.

The East Germans, who led all countries with six gold medals and were second to the Soviets with 10 overall, are masters at getting a lot out of a relatively little. Part of the strategy involves developing athletes in sports that other countries consider mere curiosities. A case in point is the luge, where they cleaned up with six of a possible nine medals.

Their biggest athletic star, though, is no cookie-cutter athlete, but a very fetching beauty by the name of Katarina Witt, who had to field a marriage proposal at the Olympics' largest press conference to date. Witt will take to the ice beginning Wednesday in pursuit of the most glamorous crown in sport - the women's Olympic figure skating championship.

Looks, of course, don't mean anything in ski jumping. But, in fact, looking like anything but a Nordic flyer has helped bespectacled Eddie (The Eagle) Edwards win the public's heart. Since his courageous, but meager last-place effort off the 70-meter jump, he has become an astonishingly sought-after celebrity.

There is some feeling that Eddie should quit while he's ahead, and bow gracefully out of the 90-meter competition. At the rate things have gone, he may not even have to make this decision, since high winds keep moving the competition back. Concern has even arisen that the the Games may have to be extended to find an ideal day.

No matter how long the Olympics last, and they're scheduled to end on Sunday, the United States medal count doesn't appear likely to rise much higher. Heading into the second week Sunday, Boitano's gold figured to be the only one of that color unless Debi Thomas should upset Witt, or Bonnie Blair captures the 500-meter women's speed skating title.

Overall, American athletes garnered only three medals (one gold, one silver, and one bronze) in the first week while encountering more than their share of disappointments.

Speed skater Dan Jansen, who competed as he coped with a death in the family, fell in both his races, the second time with victory in sight on the last lap of the 1,000. An already injury-hampered ski team lost the services of national downhill champion Pam Fletcher when she collided with a course official. And the hockey team just failed in a desperate late rally against the Soviets, then squandered a 3-0 lead in losing to Czechoslovakia .

The Olympics still have a week to run, though, so there are a lot of stories still to be told - and possibly a few O. Henry twists up some thermal sleeves.

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...