Remembered highlights of the Winter Games
| Lake Placid, N.Y.
Stickers proclaiming "Saravejo is next" have been popping up all over this Adirondack Mountain town during the past two weeks. Their presence was a quiet reminder that the Winter Games will now take off their red, white, and blue bunting and be unwrapped in Yugoslavia in 1984.
The "Olympics in Perspective," the games of near mass confusion, the Eric Heiden Show, the year of the big hockey upset -- all one and the same -- are history now.
Tiny Lake Placid, the only community that dared to host the XIII Winter Olympics, can sign with releif. At one point, the hamlet practically collapsed under the weight of this colossus of sport. But in the end it survived the trauma of a busy system breakdown and other organizational snags to at least partially silence the critics.
Fortunately, the athletic competition produced the usual array of outstanding performances, including two that Americans will remember for years to come. Of course, a fair share of star-spangled flag waving was in order since these were the first games on US soil since 1960.
Making sure Old Glory didn't go into mothballs were Heiden, a Midwestern Hans Brinker who goes home to Madison, Wis. with five speed skating gold medals to his name, and the "Impossible Dream" hockey team that wrested Olympic honors away from the Soviets for the first time in two decades.
For Americans, these triumphs more than made up for disappointments elsewhere.
As has become typical, though, the Soviet Union and East Germany were the bullies on the Olympic block. Together they rang up an imposing 45 medals out of a total 115, cleaning up in figure skating, luge, bobsled, biathlon, and cross-country skiing.
The Scandinavians, however, kept their reputation of strength intact in the Nordic disciplines, while Sweden managed to make a splash in the Alpine events due to the efforts of one man -- Ingemar Stenmark.
A shy 23-year-old who still lives with his parents near the Arctic Circle, Stenmark captured both the men's slalom and giant slalom. The rcognized king of the hill thereby achieved the gold standard that had eluded him in 1976 when he could manage only a bronze in the GS and fell in the slalom.
Austria's Annemarie Moser-Proll, who found herself in somewhat similar circumstances, also fulfilled a long-held desire for a gold. Certainly one of the best female skiers of all time, she was upset twice in 1972 and sat out the '76 games, but finally outskied Hanni Wenzel to win the women's downhill here.
Thereafter, Hanni was unbeatable, securing both the women's slalom and giant slalom gold medals to exactly match the tally of West germany's Rosi Mittermaier at innsbruck four years ago and make Liechtenstein the biggest little nation of these Olympics. The leader of the season-long World Cup standings, she gave Europe's most diminutive sovereignty it's first gold medals ever.
Hanni's success was truly one of the heartwarming episodes of these or any other games. No one could begrudge a country of just 60-square miles its moments in the Olympic spotlight. The world, after all, can use an occasional fairy tale come true.
When Andreas Wenzel finished second in the men's giant slalom, the "first family of skiing" had produced the Olympics' first brother-sister Alpine medal winners.
If there was a Herculean feat that went virtually unnoticed in this country, it was Nikolai Zimjatov's triple gold medal effort on the cross-country skiing trails. The Soviet iron man finished first in the 30-kilometer race, repeated his effort in the punishing 50 km, and skied a leg on the winning 4 by 10 km relay.
The Soviets and East Germans also made breakthroughs in some areas where they have not done well in the past.
The USSR, which reportedly constructed a luge run nearly identical to the one here for training purposes, took the women's gold and bronze for its first medals in this sport. And Nadechda Patrakeeva made a serious bid for her nation's first Alpine medal since 1956, finishing sixth in the women's slalom.
The East Germans, meanwhile, managed golds in the biathlon and women's figure skating (first) and showed they meant business on the speed skating oval.
No doubt about it, these countries continue to wage an ideological war at these festivals.
The most artistics battles were those in figure skating, a sport that appeals to the public's sense of both grace and athleticism.
The British experienced their finest hour in this sport, and indeed their only one on the victory podium. Robin Cousins made sure the Union Jack didn't get shut out by succeeding countryman John Curry as the Olympics' Rembrandt on blades. East Germany's Annet Potzsch spoiled what was to be Linda Fratianne's skating coronation. The USSR, strong as ever, won the pairs and ice dancing.
Figure skating was really the only sport where petty grievances emerged. As usual, the judging was at the heart of the bickering.
On the whole, politics took a welcome leave of absence during the games. Even before they opened, the International Olympic Committee made it clear that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan would not prevent the 1980 Moscow games from taking place.
The only other political issue at Lake Placed involved Taiwan, which wanted to participate as the Republic of China, but could not win the legal right to do so in court.
For the first time since 1948, mainland China did take part. Generally the Olympics were a dry run for the Chinese, who were not competitive in any event. This go-round was mostly spent winning new friends and viewing American movies in the athletes' village.
A film that to them probably appeared to have a sequel in the Olympics themselves was "Rocky." For certainly those heroically spirited American hockey players bore a marked resemblance to the boxer from Philly who wanted to go the distance.
They went the distance all right, and more, winning the gold against all odds. The thrill of victory was never more sharply defined than during the joyous delirium that followed. It is this image, even more than that of Eric Heiden speeding around the skating oval, that's destined to live on as the essence of these games.
Medal Standings Gold Silver Bronze Totals Soviet Union 10 6 6 22 East Germany 9 7 7 23 United States 6 4 2 12 Norway 1 3 6 10 Finland 1 5 3 9 Austria 3 2 2 7 Switzerland 1 1 3 5 West Germany 0 2 3 5 Sweden 3 0 1 4 Liechtenstein 2 2 0 4 Netherlands 1 2 1 4 Italy 0 2 0 2 Canada 0 1 1 2 Japan 0 1 0 1 Bulgaria 0 0 1 1 Czechoslovakia 0 0 1 1 France 0 0 1 1