Cold Sport's Warmest Host

Japan couldn't control the snow any more than Canute could command the tide. But it unquestionably set a new international record as gracious host to the Olympic Winter Games at Nagano.

The judges - from visiting spectators to the exuberant new queens of women's hockey - added their 6.0, 6.0, 6.0s to the the official vote of Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch, who pronounced Japan's work "the best organization in the history of the Winter Games."

Over the past couple of decades, pack reporters and casual viewers have fallen into clich thinking about the Japanese. First, they gave us conquering Japan, out to make the whole world its greater global co-prosperity sphere. That was a Japan supposedly bent on buying up the family jewels in America (Rockefeller Center, Pebble Beach) and turning Europe into its favorite tourist museum.

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Then, media lemmings switched clichs from Japanese 10 feet tall to pitiful inepts, caught on a treadmill of cultural inflexibility and economic decline. And glum about it to boot.

What both visitors and visiting cameras at Nagano found instead was a people deeply and genuinely courteous. Eager to share their invigorating mix of striking aesthetic tradition and modern technical ingenuity. And, as many a spectator and athlete noted, fluent in the language of unforced smiles. A pleasant record to shoot at, Salt Lake City.

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