'Best' of shows takes final bow LILLEHAMMER 94

February 28, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- It ended with a battle of good vs. evil, a salute to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and a one-hour show of fireworks that left the audience standing and roaring and the athletes dancing.

The 17th Winter Olympics closed last night at the base of a ski jump on a frigid Nordic evening.

For Norway, this was a final triumph of a winter sporting carnival that has been hailed by athlete and spectator alike as the greatest of the modern age.

International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch called the people of Norway "the real winners of these magic Games."

"You have presented to the entire world the best Olympic Winter Games ever," he said.

It was a Winter Games filled with wondrous moments, tumultuous crowds and staggering television ratings in the United States.

For the Americans, it was also a Winter Olympics in which winning overshadowed whining.

Speed skater Dan Jansen, whose epic quest for a medal finished golden triumph, carried the Stars and Stripes during the closing ceremonies.

The Americans won 13 medals overall, the most in a Winter Games. But the count was inflated by four medals in short-track speed skating and one in mogul skiing, sports that some would call esoteric, and others might label "winter trash."

This was the Winter Games of Bonnie Blair going double gold in speed skating, Tommy Moe winning the downhill, and Diann Roffe-Steinrotter winning the giant slalom.

But it was also a Games in which the Tonya Harding vs. Nancy Kerrigan skating saga overshadowed all.

Which moment was more memorable? Kerrigan enchanting the audience but not the judges to win a silver medal in women's figure skating, or Harding skating around the ice in tears, her boot lace loose, her Olympic dream turning into a nightmare?

These were the Games of grand failures and bittersweet triumphs. Ofluger Duncan Kennedy going for broke, and spinning off the track. Of skaters Brian Boitano faltering and Scott Davis falling. Of short-track speed skater Cathy Turner winning two medals but bruising her rivals with elbows.

The U.S. bobsled team thought it had a better idea: a $500,000 Bo-Dyn sled. But someone forgot to bring the cold-weather sled runners to Scandinavia. The top U.S. team was bounced for cheating -- heating runners. And the No. 2 U.S. team was passed by the Jamaicans.

It was not exactly a great Olympic moment.

The U.S. Olympic hockey team had its worst finish in decades, falling to eighth. In their quarterfinal loss, American players were seen on the bench poking their sticks at the Finns.

But don't let the negative overwhelm the positive. There were good, honest results from the Americans.

"We surprised a lot of people," U.S. Alpine coach Paul Major said after American skiers claimed four medals. "This will be our springboard for the next four years."

They may not have earned medals, but Joan Smith finished 14th in the 15-kilometer biathlon race, Jonathan Edwards and Mark Grimmette finished fourth in luge doubles, and 17-year-old Todd Lodwick was 13th in Nordic combined.

Less than a month after injuring his right knee, Trace Worthington finished fifth in aerials.

Jenni Meno and Todd Sand claimed fifth in pairs skating.

America doesn't have a rich tradition for winter sports. There are only three speed skating tracks and one Olympic-caliber bobsled and luge run in the country. But these Games have triggered enormous interest in the United States.

"We've received 5,000 inquiries from kids who want to be lugers," said Wendel Suckow, fifth in men's luge.

Figure skating rinks from coast to coast also have reported a swelling interest from kids who may want to grow up to be the next Nancy Kerrigan.

"All these kids watching us win and do our best, it's exciting, and I think they're going to be inspired to try a lot of our sports," Kerrigan said.

But for now, America remains a country of Winter Olympic watchers, not participants.

The show came to its inevitable end last night.

There was a Norwegian tale of good overcoming evil as water sprites, trolls and vetters took the snowy stage.

A human battlefield also was recalled, as Samaranch evoked the suffering of Sarajevo, site of the 1984 Winter Games.

"Let us hope that this truce -- to which in our limited way we may have contributed -- let us hope that this truce will turn into lasting peace," he said.

With pocket flashlights illuminated, the crowd delivered a stirring message: "Remember Sarajevo."

Later, a Japanese snow queen appeared, providing an image of a future Winter Games in 1998 in Nagano, Japan.

But Norway would not, could not, let go of these Games so easily.

As the Olympic flame was extinguished, the crowd stirred and then broke into spontaneous song.

Ringing out in the night was one last chorus of "Victory Is Ours."

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