Scenic beauty, hospitality impress Calgary Olympic visitors. High winds that disrupted events also among most vivid memories
After two weeks at the Olympic Winter Games in Calgary, Alberta, the writer shares his impressions in this open post card. Dear readers,
Calgarians, I'm sure, are a friendly lot even without the Olympics, but they've been acting as one big, happy Welcome Wagon ever since the Games began.
To me, the spirit of hospitality was most charmingly apparent in one of the small touches - a little girl's artwork.
Local school children drew an Olympic scene on one side of a greeting card left in each reporter's room. On mine, nine-year-old Jessica Norgaard depicted three women figure skaters waiting to receive their medals. They don't wear skates, but the skirts give them away. A chartreuse face on the third-place finisher may indicate she's green with envy.
When the Games end, Jessica and the other young artists may wind up groping for a way to illustrate the strong chinook winds that have been the most persistent feature of these Olympics.
If the flame that burns atop Calgary Tower had been replaced with a propeller, there's no telling where this structure would be now.
The organizers have taken a lot of heat for the wind-swept locations of ski jumps and slopes, which have led to a fair number of nagging postponements.
It was also too windy for the luge on one occasion, and the gales even affected the bobsled racing, which once was halted when sand and dirt, blown in from the snowless surroundings, began to gum up the course.
There were certainly a couple of ironic twists here. For starters, one could hardly help observing that the sandy course would seem just like home to this year's most unlikley bobsled team - the one from Jamaica. Furthermore, even as the bob track turned into a beach, a Beach Boys recording of ``Surfer Girl'' provided warmup music at freestyle skiing's aerial event right next door.
Freestyle skiing, one of four demonstration or exhibition sports on the Calgary Olympic program, is splashed with neon color - day-glow oranges, and yellows, and pinks.
Look-at-me fashions have obviously become part of the Winter Games, from the shimmering body suits of the Alpine skiers and speed skaters to the spangled numbers of figure skaters.
Sometimes the outfits seem too glittering, which is why my favorite of these Games was Brian Boitano's deep blue Napoleonic costume. It was tastefully masculine and fit his gold-medal winning routine perfectly.
East Germany's reigning Olympic and world champion Katarina Witt, who is favored to skate away again with the women's crown as she did four years ago at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, has had one coach question whether her skating wardrobe is too revealing.
During a mobbed press conference before the Olympics began, Witt dealt with a variety of issues, including the place of feminine beauty, where some think she holds a trump card.
Asked at one point if she thought looks should be a factor in the judging, she said perhaps not, ``but they'd better not be a rubber ball.''
But leave it to a clever British journalist, caught without a translations headset, to compliment her linguistic beauty.
``Would you mind speaking in English, Katarina,'' he asked. ``We all find it so attractive.''
This is the mannerly side of a press corps, which tends to bare its acerbic side in a vast work room on the Calgary Stampede grounds.
When one columnist was asked if he hadn't tired of staring across the table at the same colleague day after day, his needling reply was, ``No, he keeps reminding me that I'm not the ugliest person in the room.''
My own press center strategy is to establish residence among the overseas journalists, whose banter is less distracting. Still, a neighboring West German tests one's powers of concentration with his nightly laughfests.
Spotting my USA badge, a husky Finnish writer began a conversation in English about the distance from Calgary to Canmore, the outlying Nordic skiing site.
Driving time is supposed to be less than an hour, but after being ticketed he claimed that ``300 policeman will be waiting'' for those who get there that fast.
But what's the hurry? The media bus trips are scenic delights, surely among the fondest memories this writer will take home.
They begin with wonderful looks back at Calgary's sprawling cityscape, then pass through the prairie-like ranch country straddling the Trans Canada Highway, and finally arrive in the breathtaking Rockies. Photographers can easily shoot a roll of film before reaching their destination.
There is hardly any snow in the Calgary area, except where it's needed and manufactured at the various outdoor venues. As a result, winter brown has been the predominant color surrounding the Games.
The crowds and enthusiasm have nonetheless been fantastic, even if ticket policies and scheduling changes have disgruntled some folks.
If the best things in life are free, many people visiting or living here would say the same of the Olympics. The medal ceremonies downtown on Olympic Plaza have been expanded into nightly celebrations, capped off with a laser light show and fireworks.
The public has turned out en masse to share in the excitement and partake of the goodwill. I went the night Canadian skier Karen Percy was awarded her country's first medal, a bronze. An estimated 50,000 people jammed the city's central high-rise core, but there was no sense of Times Square craziness.
The medals, by the way, are different at each Games, and those being awarded here have a very distinctive design that recognizes the roots both of the Olympics and the Calgary region. The profile of a Greek athlete is overlaid by that of a Canadian Indian, with the feathers of the Indian's headdress replaced by the equipment used in the various events, such as a skis, skate runner, hockey stick, ski poles, and luge sled.
Calgary's organizers also have come up with several interesting variations on normal Olympic procedures. It began with the opening ceremony, where they ignored the traditional format by allowing the athletes to sit and watch much of the program, rather than simply parading in at the end. Then instead of selecting a well-known past or current Olympian, the organizing committee chose an unknown Olympic hopeful, 12-year-old local figure skater Robyn Perry, to serve as the final torchbearer. They are also the first to use two mascots, polar bears Howdy and Hidy, who is the first female mascot in Olympic history.
A common bond for many who attend the competitions and other festivities is their newfound interest in pin trading. Olympic pins are the international currency here, and bartering the international language.
I may go home with just a handful of pins, but of course I have an original work of art to remember these Olympics by - a masterpiece by a 9-year-old pencil pal.