Norwegians take notes, prepare for 1994 Games

February 23, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

ALBERTVILLE, France -- Two years to go. Two billion dollars to spend. Enough light to spare.

There is a hockey arena being created inside a cave. A 27,000-seat cross country stadium spreading along the countryside. An indoor speed skating oval soon to resemble a viking ship.

And there will be light, plenty of light, even in a country that is sliced by the Arctic Circle.

Today, the world of winter sports bids farewell to the Savoy region of France. But in February 1994, the athletes, bureaucrats and corporate fat cats will reassemble in Lillehammer, Norway, site of the 17th Winter Olympics.

With the Olympic calendar changing, the organizers of the Lillehammer Games are working diligently to make sure their facilities are ready in time for the Feb. 12, 1994, opening ceremony.

"We are constructing everything from scratch," said Gerhard Heiberg, chairman of the Lillehammer organizing committee. "We finished 50 percent of the facilities by January. Another 95 percent will be completed by the end of the year. We are on schedule."

Norway's athletes are on track as well. They won nine golds, six silvers and five bronzes in Albertville -- a total that will put the country of 4 million people fourth in the final tally, just behind Germany, the Unified Team and Austria.

More than 200 volunteers and officials from Lillehammer, less than 100 miles northwest of Oslo, attended these Winter Games. Dressed in blue sweaters, gray coats and jeans, they drove the French organizers to distraction, asking hundreds, if not thousands, of questions, while taking reams of notes. But Heiberg said that being thorough is simply the Norwegian way of doing business.

"We are more like the Americans," said Heiberg, 52, chairman of Aker, an international industrial company.

"We plan well in advance," he said. "We hope that the Games will function once they start. We are not as flexible as the French. The French way isn't our way. We plan several years in advance. They don't."

Like the Albertville Olympics, the Lillehammer Games will be spread across a region and not contained in one city. But Heiberg said there will be a more compact and intimate feel to the Lillehammer Games, which will be held in six cities and towns.

"We will have only one Olympic village," he said. "The skiing is no more than 30 minutes by car to the north of Lillehammer. The hockey is 30 minutes to the south."

The plans are impressive, with new ski jumps, a refrigerated bobsled-luge track, an indoor speed skating oval, cross country and biathlon stadiums and that spare hockey arena inside a cave, under construction.

But the organizers are pressed for time. The Olympic calendar is being transformed, with Winter and Summer Games rotated every two years. The change was made to accommodate television and the various national Olympic committees that struggle to field teams and to focus greater attention on winter sports.

"At first, I thought the two-year gap between Albertville and Lillehammer was bad," Heiberg said. "But, actually, it's very good. The talk here in France among the athletes, is that in two years, they will continue. I think that will be an advantage for us."

But the budget could bust a bank in Oslo. The price tag of $2 billion is high, yet organizers view these Games as a way to change a farming region into a winter sports magnet.

"This $2 billion cannot be written off in 16 days," Heiberg said. "We are building roads. We will construct a television center that will become a school for 1,700 children. We applied for the Olympics to develop this certain region in Norway. Almost nothing will be torn down afterward."

"Build it and they will come" seems to be the Lillehammer motto. In Albertville, crowds flocked to the arenas, but attendance in many of the mountain venues was sparse.

"We want many more people to come," Heiberg said. "We want more cheering. We want happier crowds. People closer to the athletes. In Norway, we are much more interested in winter sports. Crowds will come."

And yes, there will be light for all. Even in the land of the midnight sun, there will be enough daylight for outdoor events.

"There is more than enough light," Heiberg said. "These will not be a candlelight Olympics."

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