They had been billed as "the simple games," an attempt to put on a sane and secure Olympics with a paucity of pomp and a bare-bones budget. When the sledding and the skating and the skiing in the mountains and valleys of Austria's Tyrolean Alps had ended, the Innsbruck organizers of the 1976 winter games could look back on a simply magnificent athletic competition.
These were the first Olympics held after the 1972 Israel tradegy at Munich. Soldiers with loaded guns and guard dogs patrolled an Olympic village fenced with barbed wire, grim reminders of a world worried by terrorism.
Yet four years later one also remembers flowers, the 50 bouquets showered on the ice the night Dorothy Hamill skated to a gold medal, the single yellow tulip that pink-cheeked Rosi Mittermaier presented on a ski slope to Kathy Kreiner, the Canadian teen-ager who had upset the West German's bid to become the first female triple-crown winner in the history of the games.
There were the tears that flowed freely the night speed skater Sheila Young stood proud and tall with a gold medal draped around her neck, as the Star-Spangled Banner blared over a loudspeaker. And there were the joyful tears, too, of an entire nation as Austria's Franz Klammer came streaking across the finish line to win the men's downhill.
Klammer's victory came on the first day of the competition, and even before the sun was up, thousands of his countrymen had begun trudging up the Patscherkofel downhill run, 20 miles outside Innsbruck, to watch the most dangerous of all Olympic events.
Klammer had dominated World Cup ski rankings all that winter and was heavily favored to win the downhill. He also was the last man, No. 15, in the top-seeded group to test the treacherous run. When he stood in the starting gate almost 2,000 meters from the finish, he was the only racer left with a chance to catch the early leader, Switzerland's Bernhard Russi.
As Klammer began his descent, he very nearly skied off the course on an icy patch high on the hill. Somehow, some way, Klammer caught himself and began picking up speed. As he whooshed down the mountain, his countrymen took up the chant.
The cry "FRANZI, FRANZI" boomed and plunged toward the finish; a thunderous roar exploded as Klammer soared off a rise into the air for what seemed like an eternity. His skies finally touched down, and when he crossed the finish line, the electronic scoreboard blinked momentarily and flashed his time: One minute, 45.73 seconds -- 33 hundredths of a second faster than Russi.
All of Austria celebrated. There was dancing on the slopes, men and women embracing, crying. Below, at the finish, the Austrian soldiers assigned to the security detail dropped their rifles and rushed Klammer, lifting him to their shoulders. "FRANZI, FRANZI," the chant continued.
While the clamor for Klammer went on, 50 miles away in scenic snowy Seefeld, the American contingent was rejoicing over the thoroughly unexpected triumph of Bill Koch, an unknown cross-country skier from the backwoods of Vermont.
On a rolling 30-kilometer course through a mountain meadow, Koch skied the race of his life and won a silver, the first American ever to win an Olympic medal in the winter games version of marathon running.
Even as Klammer was gamboling down the hill, Koch was gliding through the snow faster than anyone except a single Soviet soldier. Yet hardly any American reporters were in Seefeld to witness the historic race that day, drawn instead to the more prestigious downhill.
Koch was asked if it bothered him that no one knew anything about him.
"No," he said, "this is a lonely sport. I don't do it for recognition; I do it because I love it. It feels good to me to have my mind do the best it can do and body do the best it can do. That to me is an accomplishment."
Koch's was the first of a dozen American medals at Innsbruck, half of them acquired by the U.S. speed skating team in their Darth Vader uniforms and their rosy checks. Sheila Young was the most successful skater, with a gold, a silver and a bronze. But one of the most memorable stories of the competition involved Dan Immerfall and his mother.
After her son had won a bronze medal in the 500 meters, Irene Immerfall rushed onto the ice waving an American flag, shouting "Immerfall, Immerfall" before they embraced.
Ever since her husband had died 10 years before, she had worked two jobs from 8 a.m. to midnight to help pay the costs that kept her son in skates and in training.
"We could have owned a Cadillac with all the money we spent," Mrs. Immerfall said. "But Dan always said he'd rather see me in blue jeans and a Triumph instead of a Cadillac and a fur coat. That's fine with me too."
The figure skating was not so much a competition as it was a coronation of Dorothy Hamill. By the time the final portion of the program began, Hamill had built up such a commanding lead that only a disastrous fall could keep her from the gold. That never happened.
As it turned out, Hamill's toughest task of the night came after her championship performance. While 100 reporters waited in an interview room, Hamill went to another room to provide the urine sample required of every athlete.
After 45 minutes, she was still there. It was left to Jim Brock, the stubby Texan who served as a public-relations man for the U.S. Olympic team, to explain why. "Y'all hold your hosses," Brock said. "Lil' Dorothy's having a little trouble passing water."
Hamill eventually came out and admitted she had never been so nervous in all her life. Then she went off and signed a million-dollar contract with the Ice Capades.
While America was falling in love with Hamill, Innsbruck was equally captivated by Rosi Mittemaier, the 24-year-old West German skier known as "Mama" and "Grandma" because she had been racing competitively on the World Cup circuit for 10 years.
Mittermaier first upset Austria's Brigitte Totsching in the downhill and, three days later, narrowly defeated Claudia Giordani of Italy in the slalom. And so, on the day of the giant slalom, the slopes of the Axamer Lizum run were lined with Rosi rooters. They carried banners, they sang her name, they called her "Gold Rosi" and they came armed with flowers in anticipation of a third Mittermaier triumph.
Canada's Kreiner spoiled the celebration with the games' most stunning upset, but Mittermaier's beaming smile that afternoon will remain in memory.
And then there was the the man from Tass. I sat next to him during the Soviet come-from-behind victory over Czechoslovakia for the gold medal in hockey. The russians trailed, 3-2, but scored twice in the last five minutes, for a 4-3 victory in what many believed was the finest hockey game in Olympic history.
The Soviet soportswriter, however, seemed far more interested in the sabled young woman who literally shared his seat along press row. He laughed and giggled, pinched his girlfriend frequently and cheered lustily for every Russian score. But he never took a note.
"For me," he said, "it is enough to say our team won. What else is there but the final score?"
At Innsbruck, there was so much more.