Monday, February 23, 1998
Nagano watches Olympic exodus with sadness, reliefNAGANO, Japan (AP) -- The games are over and the athletes have scattered. Still, many Nagano residents haven't got over the idea that the Olympics actually came to this mountain-ringed city.
For Fumitake Takemura, the Olympics seemed to touch everyone he knows.
His daughter was one of more than 36,000 people who worked as volunteers. His employer was the Games' official bank. Virtually all his friends were involved in some way or other.
And now that an Olympic exodus has begun, the city is beginning to feel that post-party mix of joy, sadness and relief.
"I never imagined that a place like this out on the countryside would ever be the focus of such excitement," he said. "We all were so caught up in it. It will be hard to see it all quiet down here again like it was before."
Nagano's transformation to the quiet town it was before the Games, which ended Sunday, is already well under way.
The main train station, which had become a gathering place both for thousands of arriving tourists and an odd mixture of scalpers, hawkers and street performers, is again quiet at night.
The stage at Central Square -- where more than 100,000 people gathered during the two-week games to watch athletes receive their medals -- is now empty and silent.
As the Games left town, they left behind lingering concerns over their cost.
The Olympics brought a massive infusion of public spending money into Nagano. The area now has a major super-express railway link to Tokyo, new highways and wider roads.
But most of the venues for the Games had to be built from scratch. The construction bill for Nagano city stands at $693 million US.
Just how well this city of 360,000 will be able to put those facilities to use remains to be seen.
"To be honest, it worries me," said Takao Nakazawa, a middle-aged office worker. "I feel like the party is over, and now all we are left with is the bill."
Even so, the Nagano Games were far better than many Japanese expected.
The organizing committee, which had been deluged by disputes and criticism before the Games, earned high praise from IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch.
Samaranch called these Games the "best-organized" Winter Olympics ever -- meaning that while they might not have been better than Lillehammer in 1994, they were worthy of the nation's pride.
The performance by Japan's team also helped. Japan won five golds, its best Olympic showing. Each golden moment has been broadcast repeatedly, and the replays dominated the airwaves Monday.
Hiroyasu Shimizu won Japan's first gold by skating to victory in the men's 500-metre sprint. For him, the overriding effect of the Games was clear.
"The Olympics seemed to unite the whole country," he said.