YESTERDAY, WE HAD some things to say about the 1980 Olympic games, NBC's enormous expenditure to cover them, and the particular problems deriving from the fact that the site of the XXII Olympiad will be Moscow. Today we would like to call your attention to some Olympics that are wonderfully free of big money, the aura of show biz and the corrosive effect of global politics. We have in mind the Special Olympics - devoted uniquely to mentally retarded athletes. Although individual states (Maine, Vermont, Utah and New York) have held similar winter games before, the Winter Special Olympics in Steamboat Springs, Colo., this week is the first national and international gathering of the mentally retarded on the slopes and rinks of winter sports.

The idea is a refreshing extension of the one that, for eight years, has made the Summer Special Olympics such a useful and boldly innovative event. And yet the idea should not be all that surprising: Why shouldn't the retarded be involved in athletics? Whatever handicaps they may suffer, none is so great that the true joys of sports - companionship, self-testing, emotional and physical elevation - should be considered off-limits. Indeed, that is one of the lessons the Special Olympics has taught to those willing to listen: that the limits of the mentally retarded are not as severe as is commonly believed. For many, the handicaps can be overcome: Normal living is possible, not to mention that the enthusiasm for living remains strong.

Not surprisingly, the Special Olympics continues to grow. According to its officials, the overall participation in 1976 was 580,000, up 45 per cent from 1975. The number of volunteers was 190,000, up 27 per cent. Nearly 90 per cent of the counties in the United States had Special Olympics activities last year. Figures aside, what can't be measured are the personal successes in the lives of the retarded who come out for the games. The point is not so much who wins, and still less that "winning is everything." Instead, as Eunice Kennedy Shriver has noted: "To give Special Olympians the chance for independence, for a paying job, for a place in the sun, should be our highest goal."