There ought to be special medals just for Olympic spectators this Feb. 3 to 13. Something suitable in gold for anyone who squeezes in to see all the events; a silver number for getting a confirmed hotel reservation, and a bronze for merely showing up at Sapporo.
Attending the 1972 edition of the Winter Games promises to be something of a separate competition all by itself. Sapporo has been fully booked for months, and now the Japan Travel Bureau is gently discouraging individual Olympic visitors because the city has run out of room. For one thing, the place is not normally such a winter tourist attraction, and when city officials counted up 1,500 beds "suitable for foreigners" in the city and suburbs—adding in the potential of 700 hotel rooms still under construction—the space was quickly booked by Olympic officials and tour packagers.
But that is just one minor handicap. Another problem is that tickets to several of the events are all sold out and others are going fast. Unless one has a tour connection complete with tickets, scratch the opening and closing ceremonies, forget the figure-skating finals, downhill races, slalom and giant slaloms. Still available are the Nordic competitions, speed skating, jumps, bobsled and luge—and if you happen to like hockey, you'll love the Sapporo Games. Then, as if all that were not enough in the way of obstacles, Olympic executives have announced that no tickets will be sold to any event unless the visitor can first show documentation that he has a place to stay. There will be no sleeping in the streets or parks at this Olympics.
Even with all this, attending the Winter Games will not be impossible—just tough. The best bet for Americans is to go package by signing on with one of the tour groups that reserved the beds and bought the tickets several months ago. Here are the contacts with space still available:
Apollo Travel Ltd., 3705 Cherry Creek North Drive, Denver (303: 388-1654), has openings on two Olympic tours. For $1,375, the Denver Businessman's Orient Trade Trip is offering a round trip from Denver Jan. 29 to Feb. 13, plus accommodations, two meals a day, sightseeing tours and tickets to the opening ceremonies. One may save $92 by joining the tour in San Francisco, and an additional $35 will buy tickets to Olympic events from Feb. 4 to 7.
Apollo's other package, provocatively called Skiers and Swingers Tour to Japan and the 1972 Winter Olympics, costs $1, 135. The title is not entirely correct, since the skiers and swingers leave Feb. I and don't get to Sapporo until Feb. 8, five days after the action starts. The price includes round trip from Denver, plus a seat at the closing ceremony—and $45 more will buy seats to other final-week events. The tour starts off with four days of skiing among the kamikazes at Shiga Heights outside Tokyo, an experience guaranteed to leave anybody too shaken for much swinging in Sapporo.
Churchill Tours, Inc., 1137 S.W. Yamhill, Portland, Ore. (503: 224-3770) is offering a $1,285 package that includes a Jan. 31 to Feb. 14 round trip, sightseeing, some meals, two cocktail parties in Sapporo and spectator tickets to the opening ceremonies, 70-meter jumping, men's downhill race and one figure-skating event. The tour will spend one week in Sapporo and another week touring Japan, but if any enthusiasts would rather stay two weeks in Sapporo to see more Olympic action, tickets will be available.
The American President Lines has the most luxurious plan, with its Orient-cruising President Cleveland: $1,720 for a trip that starts Jan. 8 in San Francisco, takes in Los Angeles, Honolulu, Yokohama and Hong Kong, then docks at Otaru near Sapporo Feb. 4, the day after the Games begin. The cruise promises three full days of Olympic spectating, 35 events in six different sports—but the schedule is frankly larded with those interminable early-round hockey eliminations and unfortunately misses the glamour events of the Games. Unless, of course, one jumps ship when it pulls out Feb. 6.
There are alternatives to the package tours, but they call for special tourist enterprise and a certain capacity for hard ship. First, a few rooms still are available in the Japanese inns around the hot-spring resort hamlets of Noboribetsu and Doya. And while the inns are extremely charming, the hardship lies in the fact that both of these communities are about 2½ hours by car away from Sapporo. Add to this a transfer in town to buses headed for the venues, and it totals up to considerably more than six hours a day of Olympic commuting.
Another possibility, particularly for the selective spectator who wants only to see one or two specific events, is to stay in the pampered comfort of a Tokyo hotel and commute by plane to Sapporo. This is easy enough, much like the New York-Boston-Washington shuttle, a 75-minute flight, $65 round trip. Japan Air Lines and All Nippon Airways each will be running 13 flights daily. They should be reserved well in advance. And when free-lancing it without benefit of a tour, it is imperative to deal through the Japan Travel Bureau at 1 Marunouchi in Tokyo. Once on the Olympic scene, even by air commute, ticket prices are not a problem; fans may attend most events for as little as 28¢ for standing room (the Japanese are very big on standing room), up through 11 categories to $16.66 for first-class reserved seats.
The final plan is only for the very bold. Yukie Chudo, manager of the foreign tourist section of the Japan Travel Bureau, says that prospects for individuals attending the Games are dim right now. But Chudo also points out that "there is always great pressure on accommodations and tickets before an Olympic event. Then, once the Games get under way, it turns out that there are always some hotel rooms, some tickets and even some transportation available. It happened in Tokyo in 1964 and it happened in Grenoble in 1968." So perhaps the prospective visitor with a nervy view of life should not lose all hope. Go ahead, fly to Tokyo on a gamble. Contact the foreign section of the Japan Travel Bureau upon arrival (telephone 211-3211) and see if something has opened up. You might be lucky.
If not, stay in Tokyo and enjoy the visit. Watch all the Olympic action on TV—the quality of Japanese color television is better than ours—and, for atmosphere, step outside and see if Mount Fuji shows through the smog.