THE 1988 Winter Olympics open today and everything about them looks right. Calgary is a snappy, earnest and friendly place fully deserving of the honor of serving as impresario and stage for them. They are drawing record numbers of athletes from a record number of countries in a pleasing affirmation of the universality that is supposed to be one of the hallmark principles of the Olympic games. The Chinook -- all of us now nod knowingly at mention of these capricious, snow-eating winds blowing off the warm waters of the Pacific -- is apparently keeping at a respectable distance. The ABC television people, who paid hundreds of millions of dollars for the privilege, have had every opportunity to prepare a marvelous show.

For the athletes, individual greatness, or team (hockey) greatness, can emerge at any time. We have the tingling impression, however, that the intensity of competition (to which the Olympics contribute mightily) and the accumulation of experience in training and technique are constantly pushing out the boundaries of sports performance. If it's not true or demonstrable, we don't want to hear of it. It's exciting just to contemplate the possibilities. Television has made all of us ever more expert, or at least more ardent, observers of forms of sport that in real life we've never seen, let alone engaged in. That permits an extraordinary identification with individual competitors, as they show speed, agility, daring and endurance in Olympic measure.

Most of us -- admit it -- will be especially thrilled to see an American take a gold, the more so because the United States is not known for consistent world-class competitiveness in cold-weather sports. But most of us -- admit this too -- are prepared to be no less enchanted by surpassing individual or team performance from athletes competing under a foreign flag. For it is those marvelously talented and brave people out there in a lonely contest between the frailties of the human body and the strivings of the human spirit -- those are the Olympic moments we want to see.