MERIBEL, France -- He was an American wearing a CCCP jacket.
"You need any Russian stuff?" he asked.
He was carrying a shoulder bag stuffed with warm-ups, T-shirts, sweat shirts and baseball caps.
"The warm-up is $250," he said. "I've got some smaller sizes for the wife, if you want."
No thanks, comrade.
Welcome to the backdrop for yesterday's Cold War replay, an Olympic hockey semifinal between the United States and the Unified Team, formerly the Soviet Union for those keeping score at home.
Fans spent the afternoon before the game on the ski slopes. The sun was warm. People came off the slopes and drank beer and coffee at outdoor cafes, their faces turned up to the sun. When the sun dropped behind the mountains an hour before the game, the temperature plummeted and the street sale began in front of the arena.
You want commerce? This was serious commerce. Dozens of vendors set up booths. You could buy an official Olympic sweat shirt for a mere $80. A silk-screen Alberto Tomba T-shirt for $20. A half-pound bag of candy for $12. One of six different Steve Garvey trading pins -- please.
You could buy one of the red gates from the women's slalom race from the day before: for $125. You could buy a Russian army hat for $50 -- from an American working behind a booth with a hammer-and-sickle cloth draped over the front table. You could buy a ruble there, too. For a lot of rubles.
You could even buy a ticket to the hockey game -- for $40. Two Frenchmen with tickets to the women's skating final were standing on the sidewalk. "We trade for hockey," said one in broken English. What's hot is hot.
Inside the small, brand-new arena, the atmosphere was less tense than Mardi Gras. How can you be tense at the foot of a ski slope? There were a couple dozen empty seats. All the fans did the wave. The French fans cheered for the Unifieds, just to spite the Americans. And laughed about it.
Dozens of American athletes sat together in one corner. Paul Wylie, the silver medalist in the men's skating, stood in front ringing a cowbell and leading cheers. Christopher Bowman was there. So was Dan Jansen. So were Rocky Marval and Mary Docter and Diann Roffe. Among them, sharing sodas, sat the bronze medalists from the ice dancing competition -- from Moscow.
The athletes cheered and cheered and cheered. It was the Duke students meeting the Winter Olympics. When an American was sent to the penalty box, the athletes chanted "the ref beats his wife." When American goalie Ray LeBlanc made one of his many terrific saves, they chanted, "Holy Moly, what a goalie."
Suddenly, in the middle of the third period, just before the Unifieds broke open the close game with three goals, a man wearing a CCCP jacket appeared in front of the American athletes.
Wearing a rubber Gorbachev mask.
And waving a small U.S. flag.
The American athletes stood and applauded.
And we were supposed to take this game seriously?