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    Wednesday, February 4, 1998

    NHLers to become Village People

    By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun
      NAGANO, Japan -- Memo to the Great Gretzky, the Golden Brett, the Russian Rocket, the Finnish Flash, the Dominator, the Big E, St. Patrick, Cujo and the rest of the Marriott-Westin-Hyatt-Hilton points program pros soon to become Village People at the XVIII Olympic Winter Games:
     Bring earplugs. Pyjamas are not a bad idea either.
     The walls are paper thin in the Olympic Athletes Village. And, while it's been toasty the last couple of nights, the first few would have had your false teeth chattering.
     Otherwise, I think you're in for a pleasant surprise. Unless you're completely spoiled sorts, you're gonna love this athletes village experience.
     There will be 3,000 athletes and officials living in the village, up 2,742 from the first Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France, way back when. There's a movie theatre, a disco, games arcades, shops, restaurants, television lounges, a library, a barbershop, a sauna, a pool ... and gifts galore.
     Cold comfort at first
     True, the village was climatically challenged the first few days. But Canadian officials, who were wearing parkas during their meals, say they are confident organizers have solved the problems.
     "We were all bundled up for a few nights, but now we're walking around in shorts in our apartments,'' said Helene Lapointe of the Canadian Olympic Association support staff.
     The athletes are almost giddy about all the gifts they are getting in the village. The most popular one is the "Happy Coat,'' a special Olympic Japanese kimono. The Olympian is taken into a sewing room with his "Happy Coat'' and has his name written on the back in Japanese symbol script.
     Canadian speed-skater Susan Auch is at her fourth Winter Olympics. If there's an athlete here to hold this village up for comparison, she's the one. And she says it's by far the best.
     "Everything is here. And they have a really great international zone. Everybody is having a lot of fun on the Olympic e-mail computers, playing video games and going to this and doing that. It's amazing.''
     Too much, maybe, she suggests.
     Being a veteran, she's expected to keep her eye on the first-timers and make sure they don't forget why they are here.
     "For the first two or three days, Jeremy Wotherspoon hadn't been in his room for more than a minute or two, other than to sleep,'' she said of the world record-holding speed skater from Red Deer who apparently thought he'd died and gone to Disneyland.
     "You have to be careful. He caught himself. He stopped. But I would have told him.''
     Monday, Wotherspoon set some sort of unofficial world record in practice.
     Auch says the only negative about the village is that it, as she politely puts it, "is classically Japanese.''
     And that means?
     "It's the way they make their walls. We're used to concrete walls. They're used to living in close quarters and having thin walls here. So we're wearing earplugs. It works.''
     Better than Lillehammer
     Otherwise, she says, it's apartment living not entirely unlike North America.
     "We have our own bedrooms. That's nice. There's lots of room. It's not like those little cubicles and the ATCO type housing we had in Lillehammer. It's much better.''
     The key question: Will Mikey (Modano) like it?
     Auch isn't sure.
     "I don't know. We'll see.
     "They are used to a lot better. But I really hope so. I hope they really want the Olympic experience. We've all heard that they really want to experience it like we experience it. I don't know if they mean it. But I hope they do.
     "I know everybody on the Canadian team will make them welcome.''
     She says she doesn't think there will be much resentment about NHLers being in their midst, even with the possibility of them stealing the show.
     "I bet they'll really try hard not to act any different than anybody else in the village.
     "All we have comes every four years at the Olympics. I'm sure they know that.
     "They are going to be a focus. We all know that. But I hope they don't steal our whole show. I hope it doesn't happen.
     "I hope it will work the other way. I hope they'll come here, love this environment, and share in everybody's excitement.''
     I hope she's right. The Olympics belong to the Susan Auchs of the world of sport more than they do the Wayne Gretzkys.
     *Countdown to Nagano - Sports 7