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WINTER OLYMPICS : Calgary Stages Warm Goodby to Games

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

The XV Winter Olympics, which was supposed to be a 16-day shift in the ice house but became something less than a snow job, melted away into the darkness on a clear, cool Canadian Sunday night.

Amid the din of exploding fireworks and the blinking light from thousands of flashbulbs, a Winter Olympics held in Canada for the first time and dominated by a team from the Soviet Union for the fifth consecutive time celebrated a successful run and then said goodby.

This was the Olympics that brought us the bravado of Italian skier Alberto Tomba, the beauty of East German figure skater Katarina Witt and the airborne brilliance of Finnish ski jumper Matti Nykanen.

This was also the Olympics that produced record-high temperatures, brought in by warm Chinook winds, as well as record-low performances by the U.S. team, which brought in George Steinbrenner.

Frank King, president of the Olympic Organizing Committee, made a brief reference to the weather at the Closing Ceremony when he spoke of how the world was welcomed here.

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“Come together and share our warm way of life,” King said. “It turned out a lot warmer than we expected.”

For every lovable Olympic loser, like myopic British ski jumper Eddie (The Eagle) Edwards, there emerged a great winner like Nykanen or Dutch speed skater Yvonne van Gennip, who seemed to sprout gold medals as if they were tulips.

The U.S. team tiptoed softly through the Closing Ceremony, during which the Olympic flame was extinguished and the Games ended.

But before the next Olympics can begin, this one had to end. For its closing, the largest temporary artificial ice surface in the world, 250 feet by 170 feet, was built three feet above the turf at McMahon Stadium. There was one problem with the ice. It kept melting.

Then on Thursday, Olympic organizers finally covered the surface with a layer of Styrofoam and that protected the ice so that the show could go on. More than 250 skaters, including former gold medalists Dorothy Hamill and Robin Cousins, entertained the sellout crowd of 60,000.

Speed skating star Bonnie Blair, carried the U.S. flag at the head of the American team.

On their way out of town, American athletes looking for some good news may find some. Looking for a silver lining, or perhaps a bronze one? At least the Americans should have no trouble clearing customs, since they have nothing to declare.

The U.S. fielded a team of 166 athletes, tutored by 180 coaches, competed in 47 events and won 6 medals. The 23-athlete team from the Netherlands entered only one sport, speed skating, and won 7 medals.

Blair and figure skater Brian Boitano won America’s only two gold medals in the poorest medal showing by the United States since 1936.

Just before the Closing Ceremony, there was a figure skating exhibition at the Saddledome. Debi Thomas, who got a bronze medal Saturday night, skated flawlessly this time.

Witt, the gold medalist, performed three numbers. In one of them, she put on a black leather jacket and moonwalked on skates to the Michael Jackson song “Bad.”

To the words of Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, the crowd reacted with silence when only moments before it had been doing the wave.

“I now declare the 15th Winter Games in Calgary closed,” Samaranch said. “God keep your land glorious and free.”

The Olympic flag came down. Ten Canadian soldiers carried away the white flag with its five interlocking rings of blue, black, red, yellow and green.

In this city in the Western part of Alberta, Canada, the Winter Olympic flame flickered and died, not to reappear until it casts its warm glow over Albertville, a small Alpine village in the southeast corner of France, in 1992.


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