Monday, February 23, 1998
Time difference was only nightmare
The athletes of the world were doing the wave during most of Juan Antonio Samaranch's closing ceremony speech. But they stopped when he said the words "and finally ..."
Two years ago in Atlanta he caused controversy by refusing to compliment the host.
Not in Nagano.
"Congratulations Nagano and Japan,'' he said with great gusto. "You have presented to the world the best organization in the history of the Olympic Winter Games.''
As always, he then called on the youth of the world to assemble in four years, before his final four words: "Arigato Nagano! Sayonara Nippon!''
What would follow was a greater goodbye than the mind could imagine. Not that it had been such a shabby show before Samaranch's speech.
It began as Nagano presented Furusato, the home-town festival, with the lighting of the bonfires and the young girls scattering flowers to lay a carpet for the athletes.
They came in as a group, the flag-bearers, with Canada's Catriona Le May Doan on the second row.
Guenther Huber, who shared two-man bobsledding gold with Pierre Lueders of Canada, figure skater Philippe Candeloro of France, American gold-medal winning hockey player Cammi Granato and Japan's hero of these games, two-medal speed skater Hiroyasu Shimizu, were other flag-carriers who stood out in the crowd.
But it was the faces in the crowd that followed, including probably the most famous face at these Olympics, that of Wayne Gretzky, that people were trying to pick out.
The Canadians were in delightful disarray as they entered the stadium, Gretzky marching on the outside and shown on the big screen of the stadium, as was Lueders holding his gold medal. The faces of Manon Rheaume and Susan Auch also were among those featured on the scoreboard as the Canadians came in.
Our athletes, occasionally falling back to mingle with the men and women of China, were camera-crazy, trying to get pictures of each other to capture their moment.
The Americans, sans their room-trashing hockey players who had already gone home, marched behind a huge sign, "Thank You Nagano, see you in Salt Lake City.''
They had people riding on each other's shoulders.
The Virgin Island bobsledders carried "Sleds For Sale'' signs.
The closing ceremony was much like the opening show. Very simple. Very traditional. Very Japanese.
But then they gave some time to Salt Lake City, host of the 2002 Winter Games. The best part of the Salt Lake show was the shooting into the air of snow-like confetti, which seemed to guarantee more snow than we saw in Nagano.
That reminded me of the quote from John Franco Kasper of the international ski federation, after two weeks of trying to get in all the races despite the wonky weather.
"Nagano,'' he said, "is the only place in the world where you have four seasons in one day plus an earthquake.''
But it was what happened after Samaranch spoke that left the world with Nagano's spectacular signature: A stadium of 50,000 people standing in the darkness, holding paper lanterns to provide light. Stunning.
A fabulous display of fireworks followed.
I doubt if TV could have come close to capturing the effect of 5,000 fireworks shot into the Japanese night in eight minutes.
I have this thing about the 10 Olympics I've covered. I go to the closing ceremony only if I liked the Games.
These were great Games. The organization was outstanding. The venues were beautiful and some even breathtaking.
The only thing wrong with these Olympics was that they were held so many time zones from Canada. They were a nightmare to cover. But that wasn't Japan's fault.
The Japanese people were sweet. They never stopped smiling. They desperately wanted you to have a happy experience.
Arigato Nagano. Sayonara Japan. You were wonderful.