NAGANO, Japan -- His Olympic credential reads, "Albert Grimaldi, Athlete, Monaco." It hangs from his neck, along with his room key from the Olympic Village.
You can almost see those wacky snowboarders bowing and shouting, "We're not worthy! We're not worthy!"
Prince Albert rules.
This is his fourth Olympics, matching the total of "King" Carl Lewis. Once again, he's competing in bobsled, staying in the athletes' village, acting like a regular guy.
The prince might not party with Alberto Tomba, but he considers him a friend. As famous Alberts go, he's certainly a lot looser than Gore.
The vice president bores the United States to tears at his news conferences, droning on about "no controlling legal authority."
The prince answers questions in English and French, assists reporters with their tape recorders and even offers to answer their ringing cell phones.
When fireworks exploded at the Spiral luge and bobsled run, he asked, "Are we under attack?" apparently prepared to summon the Monacan army.
He arrived without security. He looked like a true Olympian in his full Nike get-up. And before answering a question, he blew his nose.
In his heart of hearts, he'd probably love to be known as the bobsledder formerly known as prince. He certainly enjoyed talkin' bobsled yesterday.
No one asked if he'd trade his crown for a gold medal. No one asked if he had any interns. But the prince offered long, thoughtful answers on a variety of topics.
He quoted Goethe, fondly recalled vacations to St. Moritz and -- scandal of scandals -- admitted to closing his eyes to visualize bobsled runs while attending concerts.
He also ducked retirement questions, fired back at his critics and talked a little royal trash, saying, "Anything between 20th and 25th would be greatly satisfying for me."
The prince, 39, has competed in in the two- and four-man events at the Olympics, finishing as high as 25th and as low as 43rd. He's limiting himself to four-man duty at these Games.
"The older you get, the easier it is to have more people pushing," he said, drawing laughter.
So, are these his last Olympics?
"I don't know what to say anymore. I seem to have come out of retirement a few times already," the prince said.
"Obviously, it's becoming increasingly difficult for me to set that time aside for training and a few races every season. We're looking at pretty much the waning moments of a 12-year career."
So, he's ruling out Salt Lake City?
"I won't say anything anymore. Otherwise, you're going to come after me," he told reporters, prompting more laughter.
Truth be told, the prince relishes the Olympic experience, walking through the village anonymously, eating breakfast with Russian biathletes.
One of his bobsled teammates is a casino worker. Another is an assistant food and beverage manager at a hotel. But to hear the prince tell it, they're free to offer him constructive criticism.
"We're all in the same boat," he said, mixing royal metaphors.
Still, it's good to be the prince. Unlike many Olympians, he didn't exactly come from humble beginnings, as the start of his bobsled career attests.
It was February 1984. The Grimaldis were skiing in -- where else? -- St. Moritz. And the prince strolled over to the local bobsled track for a guest ride.
"I thought it was pretty neat. It felt a bit like a roller coaster," he said.
For most of us, that's where it would end. But the prince being a prince, he learned to drive a sled, organized a national federation and started recruiting teammates.
"I went around to different sports clubs," he said. "There were a lot of startled looks on people's faces -- it's bobsledding, what's that?
"People obviously had heard of bobsledding through the Olympics. But they couldn't even spell bobsledding, let alone do it.
"As Goethe once said, daring ideas are like putting chess men in position. You might be beaten, but it may turn out to be the winning move."
So, there you have it.
Lincoln freed the slaves. Churchill stood up to Hitler. And Prince Albert organized a bobsled team.
Which leads to the obvious question:
Can Monaco bobsledding survive without him?
"That's a very good question," the prince said. "Even in Monaco, I've heard rumors that the Monaco bobsledding team is Prince Albert's toy, that I'm just doing it to show off. I'd be upset if a lot of people thought that.
"I never started this just for myself. Obviously, I loved the sport. I wanted to do my best in it. I also wanted to bring a new sport into Monaco, add to the winter sports program, and sports in general.
"I think I've done things in such a way, it will keep going after I retire. I'll probably stay as president of the Monaco bobsledding federation. But we have enough athletes now there will be a next generation."
Perhaps, but the only bobsled run in Monaco is a "push track" used for practicing starts. The country actually staged a national championship in 1989. The field consisted of two sleds.
For all its allure as a tax haven, Monaco's official population is listed as 6,200. Like Michael Jordan, the prince needs his supporting cast to step forward. This year, he got distracted by Monaco's 700th anniversary celebration. Next year, who knows?
"It's very important for us to have a team," the prince said. "We don't have any skiers this year. We usually have one or two. This year, it's only the bobsled team. We carry on us the weight of the Monaco winter sports program."
He's the Atlas of the Riviera.
He's Albert Grimaldi, Olympian.
Carry on, prince.
Pub Date: 2/10/98