The eyes of the world will be focused on Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, starting today and for the next 12 days. The 14th Winter Olympics will test the skills of 2,000 or so of the world's finest young athletes. Although much of the drama of the Olympics centers on national team rivalries - such as the Soviet-United States championship hockey match-up at Lake Placid, N.Y., in 1980 - in the final measure athletic performance is individual, with each athlete competing as much against his or her own prior levels of performance as against each other.
It is precisely because the ideal of individual performance is so inextricably linked to the Olympics that the International Olympics Committee must take long-term action to ensure the amateur status of the games. The brouhaha between the US and Canadian hockey teams over allegations that some members on both sides are in fact professionals - because of their ties to professional teams - is just one indication of the problem facing world Olympic officials. But the issue goes far deeper. It is hardly a secret that most East-bloc teams are selected, financially underwritten, and trained through extensive governmental direction.
During the past several years, the International Olympic Committee has imposed tighter regulations regarding drug use, including regulations regarding medically prescribed drugs that some athletes have taken to ''enhance'' performance. In like measure, the Olympics community would seem wise in coming to grips with a definition of exactly what is, and what is not, true amateur status. On the other hand, if athletes are allowed to compete who are in fact (but not in name) professionals, should not the games be opened up to all professional athletes?
Meantime, we can all look forward to exciting athletic contests during the next two weeks from the hillsides and sports arenas of an ancient Yugoslav community that 70 years ago captured the attention of the world when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated, precipitating World War I. Will the US and Soviet hockey teams face another dramatic match-up, as they did four years ago? How will figure skating competitors fare - Rosalynn Sumners and Scott Hamilton of the US, for example, and Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean of Britain? The US has yet to win a gold medal in Olympic ski jumping. Will it do any better now? And will Yugoslavia, which has never won a winter medal, do so this time as it hosts the world games? Stay tuned.