This week: the Winter Olympics

The 1980 Winter Olympic Games, Starting Feb. 12, will be a thrilling international event which you can watch on TV. You'll see huge, icy sled runs where big sleighs called bobsleds plunge downhill faster than 90 miles an hour. Ski jumpers will leap off ramps almost 300 feet high and soar through the air at 60 miles an hour -- that's faster than cars are allowed to go on the expressway.

Every four years, countries around the world send athletes to compete in winter and summer sports. This year, the winter games will be in a small town in New York State called Lake Placid.

The 1,400 male and female athletes will be coming from such places as Russia, China, England, Japan, and the United States to see which ones will become the world's champion figure skaters, skiers, sledders, and hockey players.

When you watch the Olympic Games, you will see certain people who are particularly good at their sports. They are the "favorites." Some Americans are favorites. One is Linda Fratianne, a figure skater. Another is Jim Denney, a ski jumper.

The Olympics are an international tradition. They originated in 776 BC, when the people of ancient Greece gathered their finest athletes to compete once every four years. These games became the pride of Greece, symbolizing its strength and beauty.

Now, thousands of years later, the countries participating are equally proud of their athletes. These people are considered the most physically fit in the world.

Competitors must be amateurs. Professionals, who are paid to perform their sport, may not participate. Members of hockey teams, such as the Buffalo Sabres or the Pittsburgh Penguins, or skaters in the Ice Capades cannot take part in the Olympics, because they are professionals.

Preparing for the Olmpics is a lot of work. Athletes who hope to be in the games spend years getting into good physical shape and practicing their sports for many hours every day. They go to school during special hours so that they will have lots of practice time.

It is very expensive to have the best equipment and coaching. In some countries, such as Russia, the government pays for training. But in other cuntries, such as the United States, it is up to the athlete or his or her parents to pay all the expenses.

Olympic competitors want to win for many reasons. They have spent lots of time and money getting ready for the event. Also, they want the country they are representing to be proud of them.

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