The athletic blizzard that is the winter Olympics has met its match in the Japanese Alps, where the skies over Nagano have sometimes resembled a well-shaken snow globe. Undaunted by weather delays, however, the XVIII Winter Games have gathered snowball-momentum during a first week filled with competition in skiing, skating, hockey, luge, snowboarding, and curling.
Japan, which rarely produces a winter champion, found one to cheer almost immediately in speed-skater Hiroyasu Shimizu, who won the men's 500-meter sprint in an Olympic record. (Moguls skier Tae Satoya later added another.) Hinged speed skates have led to a flurry of new marks at the M-Wave arena.
If Shimizu was fast, Germany's Georg Hackl was a flat-out blur, whipping around the "Spiral" luge run at speeds reaching 80 m.p.h. Hackl became only the sixth winter Olympian to win the same event three straight times.
In figure skating, Artur Dmitriev became the first man to win Olympic pairs titles with two different partners, while in the biathlon, Bulgaria's Yekaterina Dafovska shrugged off her 51st world ranking to secure her country's first-ever winter Olympics gold medal. American Picabo Street also sprang a surprise, winning the women's super-giant slalom, not her strong suit.
Triumph came mixed with disappointment, most notably in the case of Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati, whose gold medal was in jeopardy at press time by a positive test for marijuana.
The Nagano Games run through Feb. 22, with men's hockey and women's figure skating the major Week 2 attractions.