The XVII Winter Olympics, the most celebrated of these Games despite--or perhaps somehow because of--an attention-grabbing sideshow, passed joyously into history here Sunday night amid a moving plea for peace in another Olympic city and another for respect for human rights.
As the Olympic flame died in the Lysgardsbakkene ski-jumping arena, the 40,000 spectators in the stadium switched on flashlights in a silent plea for peace in war-torn Sarajevo, host city of the 1984 Winter Games, and around the world.
Earlier in the program, International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch hushed the exuberant crowd when he said, “Ten years ago we were in Sarajevo. After many horrors, the situation now seems to be improving. Let us hope that this (17-day-old) truce--to which, in our very limited way, we may have contributed--let us hope that this truce will turn into lasting peace. For us, and also for our children.”
Then, cheers ringing around him, he added, “Dear Sarajevo. We do not forget you. We will continue to support you.”
Actress Liv Ullmann and explorer Thor Heyerdahl, hostess and host for the opening and closing ceremonies, alternated in reading the Declaration of Human Rights, Ullmann delivering the final line, “We have the right to life.”
Heyerdahl intoned, “The Olympic flame here at Lillehammer has been extinguished, but we know this flame will never die. It will burn forever, in different places around the world. . . . In the meantime, let us continue in the tradition of peace.”
Woven into a stylishly choreographed fantasy, the solemn messages lent serious meaning to an outburst of song and Norwegian folklore that matched the tone the Games had sustained for two weeks, even while sharing the spotlight.
The development-a-day story of figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan commanded much of the media’s attention here, simply because it was too bizarre to be ignored. It began in Detroit on Jan. 6, when an attacker clubbed Kerrigan in the knee with a metal baton before she could skate in the national championships, knocking her out of that competition.
Kerrigan recovered and was named to the Olympic team, winning a silver medal behind Oksana Baiul of Ukraine and then heading off to Disney World.
Harding, implicated in the plot against Kerrigan, sued the U.S. Olympic Committee and was allowed to compete, but she did not fare as well as Kerrigan, finishing eighth. She commanded attention right to the end, however, when she broke a skate lace in warm-ups before her free program, was late getting to the ice, then had to interrupt her program to get a replacement lace and was given a re-skate.
Even with all that going on, however, the Games more than held their own. Enthusiastic, flag-waving Norwegian crowds packed the skiing and skating venues in unprecedented numbers and the sound of the cowbell was heard in the land. Television ratings, particularly in the United States, were among the highest in history, as people tuned in to catch the latest Tonya-Nancy development and stayed tuned to see what else was going on.
And there was a lot going on. Dan Jansen slipped in the 500 meters, but finally got his gold medal and a world record in the 1,000 in men’s speedskating. He carried his daughter around the rink and carried the flag in the closing ceremony.
Bonnie Blair became the greatest female U.S. medalist of all time with two more golds. Norway’s Johann Olav Koss set three world records to show who was boss.
U.S. skiers had one of their most successful Olympics. Tommy Moe won the downhill and was second in the super-G. Diann Roffe-Steinrotter won the women’s super-G.
Cathy Turner even managed to turn short-track speedskating into pro wrestling.
Said Samaranch in congratulating Lillehammer and the country, “To you, the people of Norway, it is my great honor to say that you are the real winners of these magic games. You have presented to the entire world the best Olympic Winter Games ever.”
The Norwegians couldn’t help but agree. Suddenly, the spectators were singing “Seieren Er Vaar,” the Norwegian victory song, just as they had been doing for two weeks during the Games.