Week One: A Warm Winter Olympics

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The snowy hills and valleys of Utah represented the warmest place in America last week. Even when the wind blew cold, the fine sportsmanship and fellow feeling that is traditional to the Winter Games, lifted last week to an absurd height by the love-everybody snowboarders, the new let's do-right IOC and the continuing sympathy for the U.S. of A., was lovely to see — and to join. The concern going in was, in post-9/11 America, the Games would be inconsequential at best, perhaps even joyless. Stringent security would put everyone on edge; Ugly Americanism would ruin the party.

As it happened, however, metal-detection machines were the gates to Oz. Inside, everyone was smiling, playing, boosting one another. Much of this was informed by last September, yes, but hardly in the way expected. Every Olympics is special but a Winter Olympics is more so. The Summer Olympics are a vast, bustling city of sport. The Winter Games, even with nutso skeleton riders and board-grabbing dudes and dudettes invited in, are a village. It has ever been this way. Lake Placid, a true village and in 1980 the last town so small to host the Games, was just a big, mitten-clapping, gather-round-the-punch-bowl party. Sarajevo was a large, old, industrial city in the Slavic mountains, but when the week-long snowstorm settled upon it in 1984 and the athletes went out to slide and schuss, it was transformed into a winter wonderland, a fairy-dusted kingdom apart from the real world. Think Lillehammer, Innsbruck and Albertville. Then consider L.A., Seoul, Atlanta.

In ordinary times, a village is easier to secure than a city. It does not bear mentioning again that these are not ordinary times, and there is no need to rehash the effort and expense that went into protecting Salt Lake City, its people and its guests. Suffice to say, in the Games first week, the system worked. At any Olympics, people on the scene talk about three things before they get around to sport: the weather, the traffic and the lines. Salt Lake is, in quantity and quality of complaint, no different.

I take that back. The quality of the complaint is more refined. It's nicer. People apologize before complaining: know you folks have had a rough go but, really, it's the metal eyelets in my Sorel boots, not an explosive device. Really.

Yes, there was a scandal. It was a scandal, like the Games-buying case that nearly cost this city this Games, that was bound to happen, sooner or later. No one bothered to feign shock that judges might have conspired to fix a figure skating event. They did, however, express shock — shock — that a quick and nimble International Olympic Committee leapt into the fray and, in a mere matter of days, set things aright. Even the precious few clouds in Salt Lake City had silver linings.

Salt Lake has already announced a new era for the Olympics, with radical athletes as heroes, honorable behavior by leaders and a firm resolve to go forth in a violent world as a symbol of peace. Let these Games continue.