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    Tuesday, February 3, 1998

    Saki to me, Nagano!

    These Winter Games are going to be great

    By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun
      NAGANO -- If it was Atlanta's curse to come after Lillehammer, it's Nagano's fortune to follow Atlanta.
     Ah so, Nagano. The XVIII Olympic Winter Games are going to be great. And they are going to seem even greater than maybe they actually are after the Atlanta abomination.
     That's my first take.
     I had no preconceived ideas of what my first impressions would be of these about-to-begin Winter Olympics. But ... well, carry my laptop computer for a day. Join me for an Olympic journey to the land of the rising sun.
     Oh, yes. Dress decently. We're flying first class. Seat 4A.
     That's Elvis Stojko and his coach Doug Leigh in front of us, and bobsledder Pierre Lueders and his brakeman Dave MacEachern behind us. Air Canada obviously has the scouting report on our gold-medal prospects.
     Stojko sleeps most of the way. Sixth trip to Japan, he says. Ho-hum.
     Lueders, every time I turn around, seems to be on the floor doing stretching exercises.
     I'm sampling saki (we all have our own Olympic preparation programs) and exchanging Olympic war stories with a pair of passengers of the same profession.
     What a truly wonderful way to go to the Olympics.
     Stojko doesn't snore.
     We're about to nod off an hour before landing in Osaka when the stewardess, delivering the second gourmet meal of the flight, suggests we might want to look out the window.
     Mount Fuji, framed by a blanket of low cloud. Wow. What a sight.
     It was 9 a.m. Sunday when we left Edmonton; 1 p.m. Pacific time when we departed for Osaka from Vancouver. We arrived at 4 p.m. Monday.
     Accreditation is at the airport. It is the quickest, most efficient accreditation process I've encountered in covering 10 Olympic Games.
     One problem, however: transportation. There isn't any.
     The Canadian Olympic Association, it seems, failed to send notification of our arrival times to the host committee. There is no bus for us.
     Official huddle.
     About eight of them grab our luggage and hustle us off to the airport train station. Must take train to Osaka city. Must take train to Tokyo. Must take train to Nagano. Six-and-a-half hours. Much yen.
     Officials huddle again. One runs off. She returns with three first-class train tickets purchased by the organizing committee. So sorry. Don't feel bad about Japan.
     The Japanese, who have a great deal of pride and desperately want to wow the world, are great throughout every step of this ordeal. A Canadian van and driver have been arranged and await us at the Nagano train station.
     The media village is first-rate. Alan Eagleson does not have better accommodations than us, after all.
     Much like Seoul '88, we're in one of several 10-floor, brand-new apartment buildings. My room is bigger than most European hotel rooms. I'd rank it third in terms of accommodation in my 10 Olympics. Calgary now ranks 10th.
     It is 11 a.m. Tuesday as I write this. That's probably about three hours after you are reading it this morning. Get used to it. These Olympic Games are being held tomorrow.
     We didn't arrive until 1 a.m. Got up at 7 and took a quick tour of "the Switzerland of Japan" which promises to deliver "Games from the heart."
     Nagano City has a population of 360,000 people. It was developed as a temple town around the historically important Zenko-ji Temple. It has nothing in common with big-city Calgary or little-village Albertville or Lillehammer. If there's a comparison, it's Sarajevo - kind of a Saskatoon surrounded by mountains.
     The speed-skating venue is directly across the road from our media village. Spectacular.
     The Big Hat hockey rink, where the NHLers will play, is also an impressive building. But it seats half of what most NHL arenas hold, and the NHL writers are going to be extremely frustrated with their working conditions and access with an amazingly small mixed zone for interviewing players.
     Most other venues are getting rave reviews. All reports out of the athlete's village are positive.
     The CBC, with its team of about double that of the Canadian Olympic squad, has no complaints about the international broadcast centre, and the main press centre, if we can ever figure these telephones out - I'm dictating - is excellent.
     Assistant press chief David Bedford says he's been here for 10 days, expecting Atlanta-like problems. Everything's been outstanding.
     The only problem he's had is with the shipment of Canadian beer. He ordered and they sent the right number of cases, but he expected 24-packs, not 12-packs. Uh-oh. Olympic crisis.
     I'm sure we'll find other flaws out there somewhere. But based on first impressions, Nagano's gonna be great.