SALT LAKE CITY — A young skier from the bleeding Himalayan kingdom of Nepal finished last in a race as the Olympics wound down, and thousands of Americans who've traveled his mountains would have applauded his struggle.
Of course they - and all Americans - would have first been stunned by the extraordinary performance of Team USA as its medal count neared 30 in an Olympic Games that began under massive and ominous security and finished in a round-the-clock Mardi Gras of American success. Not many of them could have been there to lift a hurrah for Jayaram Khadka. But his name belonged with all the rest because his story was a mirror of why the Olympics were created.
His late father would have led the applause. Years ago, he had stirred the gratitude of an English trekker by a Samaritan act of heroism. Years later, the grateful trekker located the man's son and adopted him. Improbably, events that followed brought the young skier to the snows of Soldier Hollow, the only athlete under Nepal's flag.
His event was a cross-country qualifying sprint. It was just over a mile, a 100-yard-dash by cross-country standards. Jayaram Khadka finished nearly two minutes behind the leaders. Sweating and sagging, he smiled when it was over and embraced a 47-year-old Englishman named Richard Morley, who believes he owes his life to an epic run through the mountains by Jayaram's father.
What happened after that is one of those small sagas of international sport that reflect an old but vanishing Olympian vision, now almost smothered under the avalanche of money that has inevitably professionalized the games. But you don't have to win to be an Olympian.
Jayaram Khadka is a gregarious and agreeable fellow with strong and lively eyes that are accented by a coffee colored face that is characteristic of the Nepalese who live in the environs of Kathmandu. As the adopted son of the wealthy Britisher who found him in poverty, he now lives in England and France and visits his people in Nepal. He didn't know until a few months ago that he was eligible for the Games. Mr. Morley got him interested in skiing, and he posted enough adequate times in trials to get certified at the 11th hour.
"I love being here," he told well-wishers as he packed his skis. "I've been cross-country skiing for less than a year. How could I imagine this, being part of the spirit of the Olympics?"
The sight of the Nepalese banner, flying with the flags of the world, left him momentarily trembling with his memories and grief over the killing in his homeland. Less than a week ago, Maoist rebels killed 129 policemen and soldiers in the latest assault against a Nepalese government already wracked by the slaughter of the royal family by the king's son last year. "It's brother against brother," he said. "It's awful."
His benefactor nodded. Morley is an adventurer, journalist, actor, producer, hotelier, and all-around eccentric with an instinct for making money and a long memory for the gift of life he received in Nepal. Hiking with a friend in 1984, he faced a sudden health challenge. Basu Khadka, a policeman, heard of his condition and ran for hours nonstop to get help in the city of Jomson on the edge of the Tibetan plateau. Medical facilities there are limited. Basu telephoned a helicopter service operating in another part of the Himalayas. Morley was airlifted out.
"He refused to take the money I offered," Morley said. "I went back years later looking for Basu to thank him again. I found out that he had died and that his son was working scrubbing floors for a few dollars a day."
Today Jayaram, looking at a potentially prosperous business career, calls Morley an inspiration. And so, in fact, was Jayaram Khadka to those who saw him finish the run, dead last, and later congregate with Prawat Nagvajara of Thailand, Isaac Menyoli of Cameroon, and Philip Boit, the great Kenyan athlete who also had taken up cross-country skiing to reach the Winter Olympics. All of them came from unlikely forums for winter skiing. None finished much better than Jayaram. But for a few moments after the race they became the Fab Four of the slopes in Utah. What could be more Olympian?