SO, LET THE GAMES BE....
No, the Winter Olympics never merely begin, like the bustling and rancorous Summer Games. Instead, they crystallize before your eyes and, like snowflakes, float sweetly down from heaven, pristine and sparkling, virtually untouched by human hands and human jealousies. Surely, not just by coincidence was the first full day of competition in Calgary St. Valentine's Day, too.
Let the games glow.
Tag along, St. V, and meet the happy principals. Hi, Howdy! Howdy, Hidy! Howdy and Hidy are the mascots of the XV Winter Games. Hidy may be the first distaff mascot, if you don't count the Montreal beaver, who was pretty androgynous. And how do you do, Princess Anne, just elected to the 91-member International Olympic Committee. Her Royal Highness was the only Olympic female athlete—she was an equestrian—not required to undergo a sex test at the '76 Summer Games in Montreal.
February 22, 1988
Yo, Brian? Everybody in Calgary refers to Prime Minister Mulroney as just Brian. Hey, Gordon Lightfoot! Here comes the torch now, to Alberta's Cowtown all the way from Aristotle's Greece. The Mounties are everywhere, in their crimson coats and their Sergeant Preston visages. But nobody to pinch. Lawbreakers? At the Winter O's? In the days leading up to the start of the Games, the most notable police action taken in Calgary was by the Olympic organizers, who obliged the Banana Maxx Dining Lounge not to call its demonstration sport the Miss Nude Olympics. So Banana Maxx just named the event the Nude Miss "O-Word." Take it off!
Right after that, several of the organizations that hold television rights to the Games prevailed on Calgary officials to rip up all the ice in the Saddle-dome because it wasn't sufficiently lovely. Take it off! Cost 25 grand, Canadian, but this is the Winter O's, and it's supposed to be pretty.
You're beeeyoootiful, Calgary. Everybody in big white hats. A big hug for Mayor Ralph Klein. And kisses for Peggy Fleming. And a high five for Juan Antonio Samaranch. Say hi, y'all, to the U.S. Olympic Committee—if you know who's in charge this week. Anyway, a big hiya to the Snowbird jet pilots and to the 1,000 pigeons who swooped over the opening ceremonies.
Let the Games shine.
Do you know how happy the Winter Olympics are?
No. How happy are the Winter Olympics?
The Winter Olympics are so happy that when someone tries to be disagreeable, they have to bring in the Summer Games. So it was that Samaranch met in Calgary last week with Kim Yu Sun, president of the North Korean Olympic Committee—six North Korean competitors were in Calgary, six more than are slated to be in Seoul. The IOC chief told Kim, all right, he was trying to be as patient as possible, but he had had enough.
Meanwhile, back at the Winter Games, sweetness and light reign. These Games figure to make money—Calgary estimates a $35 million profit—so there were laser shows. And country-and-western shows in the opera house. Church bells rang. The Calgary Tower was made over into a 626-foot-high Olympic torch. Jamaica brought a bobsled team, which started a land-office sale of JAMAICA BOBSLEIGH TEAM sweatshirts, with proceeds going to buy (you guessed it) a bobsled. And look, there's Dr. Ruth. Happy Valentine's Day, Ruth. A bow for the King of Spain. A curtsy for the King of Sweden.
Hi, Howdy! Howdy, Hidy!
Let the Games sparkle.
And here comes the official XV Winter Games snowflake. It is made entirely of C's, for Calgary and for Canada—and maybe for chinook.
A couple of weeks ago, few folks south of Medicine Hat or east of Red Deer knew a chinook from a Canuck, a Shmoo or a Zurbriggen. Then, instantly, visitors to Calgary became overnight Eyewitness News weatherfolk informing the world about chinooks. In fact, chinooks are weird winds that blow east over the Canadian Rockies and warm everything up for a few days. They come so regularly to Calgary that here, in this space, we are going to provide appropriate Olympian names for chinooks that might come in during these Games: Chinook Sonja, Chinook Barbara Ann, Chinook Toni, Chinook Jean-Claude, Chinook Eruzione, Chinook Torvill and Chinook Dean.
Early in February it suddenly got so frigid in Calgary that had the opening ceremonies been held just a week earlier, spectators would have suffered mass hypothermia. But last Wednesday, Chinook Sonja blew in, driving the thermometer up 61°—from 10° below zero to 51° above—in little more than a day. "Senator" Dave Broadfoot, a local comedian, quipped that there had been a dreadful accident out on the Olympic slopes—a skier ran into a lawn mower.
Let the Games sweat.
Now understand: Three of the 10 Winter Olympic sports have now been moved inside, and for what's left outdoors, there was enough snowmaking equipment on Mount Allan alone to bury 1.3 acres of brown grass under a foot of snow every hour. So substance is not the issue. The Winter O's are style. The Winter O's are fantasy. Opening ceremonies in shirtsleeves in Canada in February? That would not do.
Luckily for everyone, it turns out that in those odd moments when Pat Robertson doesn't have God's ear about the weather, Calgary evidently does. Citizens swear that for the opening day parade at the Stampede in July it never rains. Never. And sure enough, for the Winter Olympics, only a couple of hours before the ceremonies started, Chinook Sonja drifted off, and the thermometer fell to a perfect 32°—it later dropped to 19°—with even a few postcard flurries in the air. Whew! All was right with the Winter Olympics again.
Let the Games sing.
And 60,000 spectators, dressed in color-coordinated ponchos that made Olympic rings and snowflakes and maple leafs of the crowd, sang happy birthday to the Australian team. And hello to Guam. Guam? And to the Netherlands Antilles. And after the home team itself, they cheered loudest for Jamaica and its bobsledders.
And a salute to the Italian team for being the most elegantly dressed, and to the French, who in their Inspector Clouseau outfits started a perfect wave that swept once, then twice, around McMahon Stadium. And then all sang Alberta Bound and, in heavy gloves, clapped thuddingly for the 12-year-old girl from Calgary, Robyn Perry, who lit the flame, and for the hundreds of children who gamboled across the stadium floor like a human chinook.
Once, when the Baron de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, stopped hectoring us for a moment on the bounties of amateurism, he said, "If anyone were to ask me the formula of 'Olympizing' oneself, I should say to him, the first condition is to be joyful."
So let the Games be joyful. And let the medal count begin.