None of this seemed remotely possible back in May 1966 when the International Olympic Committee assembled in Rome to select the site for the 1972 Winter Games. Beautiful Banff, Canada was the betting favorite, and if not Canada, well, why not Salt Lake City? The lesser candidates were Lahti, Finland and, oh, what was the name of that other spot? Ahh, yes, Sapporo, a town somewhere up on the northernmost island of Japan and somewhere across an icy strait from Siberia. But if there is one thing sure in winter sport it is the unpredictability of the IOC. The next thing anyone knew, Sapporo had won big on the very first ballot, and now, five years and a Japanese fortune later, here we go. But Sapporo will have the last laugh. It has set a stage of soaring beauty, from the sculptured jump at right, to the graceful spectator stands and ski runs frozen against luminous mountain backdrops, shown on the pages that follow. Then, for a light but penetrating look at the ebullient East, read William Johnson on Sapporo with soy sauce.