Olympic gold

A young speed skater in a gold suit does what no one has done before -- he wins five gold medals in one Winter Olympics. A young hockey team comes from nowhere and does what no one thought it could do -- it topples the entrenched elders of the Olympic rink.

Individual achievement. Team play. appreciating those who reach the peaks of human skill, and those who keep trying for them. Sharing in their glories and disappointments by virtue of being human, too.

This is what the Olympic Games are about -- and what must be preserved beyond the political turmoil surrounding their next installment in the summer.

Yes, with other medalists in short supply, Americans got a special lift from countryman Eric Heiden's golden quintet. YEs, with Moscow's "buildup" and aggression in the headlines, they cheered the louder over the American upstarts' hockey victory over the big Soviet ice machine -- a victory sealed with gold by besting the feisty Finns.

But the excitement and delight as the Lake Placid games made their journey from logistical disaster to smash finale were not narrowly nationalistic -- even though the papers back in East Berlin reportedly crowed about their athletes' outstanding success in a way to put them statistically ahead of the apparently leading Russians. One only had to mingle a little with the Olympic throngs to feel the regard for excellence and for worthy effort cutting across patriotic boundaries.

There was the roar of the crowd for the ice dancers from Hungary. There was the sympathy expressed to Americans for the injury which forced their leading figure-skating team out of competition. After Finland beat Canada in hockey, there was the Finnish woman spectator sorrowing for the Canadian goalie in a particularly unhappy moment.

We have noted before how poorly spectators were served by the transportation and ticket facilities, especially during the early days at Lake Placid. But Lake Placid was a little like a contestant who fails the first time around but keeps trying. The transportation system, with New York State's help, did improve. The disgruntled lines for buses shown on TV did not wholly represent the mood.

Most people didn't make things worse for those around them. The beleaguered Lake Placiders maintained a high average of good humor. One heard young people playing word games while stamping their feet to keep warm. Others told of accepting the hospitality of churches providing beds.

When the Canadian ice dancers first came onto the rink, an American voice from the crowd shouted, "Thank you, Canada!" It was an echo of Canada's rescue mission in Iran. But it was in the spirit of international responsiveness and goodwill that mean the Olympics at their best -- as they are and as they ought to be.

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