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  If I Had a Lillehammer

By Mary McGrory
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 27, 1994; Page C1




Now what are we supposed to do?

We've had two weeks of watching people leap, sail, twirl and glide on ice and air. We've had victories and defeats, clear-cut, decisive. We've had a daily dose of a soap opera right out of "Snow White" — with Rose Red getting hers — as well as Robin Hood and a black swan.

Now we are back in Washington, D.C., the city of anti-climax, city of guff and managed competition. More than the rest of the country, we will miss the grace and fire of the games. We will miss watching the genuine, if crazy, profiles in courage, the skiers who soar like eagles, keep hands behind the back and land with feet together. We don't get much of that.

Our leaden-footed politicians clump around getting mad at the wrong people — much of their ire should be directed at themselves. If Congress wanted to do something really useful, it could organize a committee to investigate the scandalous decision in the Olympic ice-dancing contest of Feb. 21.

Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean put on a show that was pure gold. It was incandescent — and fun. He threw her up in the air; she threw him right back up in the air. Maybe male judges felt threatened by this witty show of equal-opportunity body-hurling. Whatever made them go bronze, they were wrong.

The Torvill-Dean turn was delightful also for offering an incomparable glimpse into the British enthusiasm. High in the stands, the cameras found a little band of Brits with a large Union Jack at the ready in case they were moved to do something terribly un-British, that is, show feeling. When Torvill and Dean were taking their bows, the British leader was moved to stand up; it seemed he might even raise the flag. But his compatriots, anxious to keep the flag of the stiff upper lip still flying, remained seated. The rest of the stadium was going berserk. He had to motion them to get up.

And while we are on the subject of national character, a word about Norway. They should have gotten a gold for being the perfect hosts. They kept showing us what the Olympics are supposed to be all about. They cheered everyone. They received their many golds with joy, but they seemed to be just as glad when others won. There was none of that lamentable gloating chant of "We're number one," as in another country we know at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic games. When Dan Jansen did his heartbreaking victory spin with his baby on one arm and tulips on the other, the Norwegians couldn't have been nicer. They waved their flags and wept as if he were one of their own.

Another good conduct medal should have gone to Bonnie Blair's mother. Every time her daughter was getting another gold, some child in the enormous "Blair Bunch" entourage would come up and demand her attention. Although she obviously would have liked to watch the ceremony and maybe hear her Midwestern daughter say again that she was "just doing something I like to do," Mom showed admirable patience to someone who might have been wondering about the restroom.

We heard complaints about the delayed-action reporting, so ironic in the satellite age. Nancy and Tonya were long asleep when they were shown at home, finally performing on Wednesday night. I hoped that Tonya would watch closely Oksana Baiul, the exquisite teen-ager from the Ukraine. She was dressed in a fetching feather costume as a black swan and shewas precise and fragile and she was totally affecting, unlike Nancy Kerrigan who was merely perfect.

It was a tough call for the gold two nights later, but it may be that after all the commotion Kerrigan was just as happy to get the silver.

Like Tonya, Oksana had a rotten childhood. She is an orphan from Odessa. But she is a living lesson that it is possible to be unfortunate and yet not curdled. From the moment she hit the ice, Tonya showed that she was out of place. Her costume was terminally tacky, a haltered collection of garish plastic sticks that looked like paint samples. Her tight little face proclaimed what everyone in the stadium seemed to know: that it was pay-up time for Rose Red. We all knew she wasn't a good skate. She showed she wasn't much of a skater, either. She placed tenth. For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, she was not interviewed by Connie Chung.

Tonya Harding didn't belong there. She didn't get it. It wasn't just that she admitted she knew about the Kerrigan kneecapping after it happened and didn't tell anyone. Before that, after hearing that her rival had been bludgeoned, she said, "I'm going to whip her butt." That alone should have disqualified her. We keep hearing that it isn't her fault. She had coaches who taught her how to do the triple axel. She had no one to tell her about the golden rule, which is supposedly the law that prevails at the Olympics.

Mary McGrory is a Washington Post columnist.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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