CALGARY, ALBERTA, FEB. 11 -- An 88-day Olympic torch relay over 11,000 miles of Canada, which ends here Saturday with the opening of the 15th Olympic Winter Games, has ignited national pride in this country accustomed to being on the periphery of world events.
The games are expected to start in the way Canadians would like, without boycotts or the political overtones that have clouded recent Olympics. The Russians and East Germans are coming, and so are the Americans.
The only real worry is that the snow may melt. After heavy snowfalls and sub-zero cold earlier this week, a powerful chinook wind from the Pacific coast blew across the Rockies to propel temperatures here today to a high of 54 degrees.
There are no grand expectations here about going for the gold. "Go for It!" is not an expression found in the Canadian lexicon, perhaps in part because Canadian athletes have not often excelled in Olympic events. But winning takes a back seat in Canadian life to such other ideals as compassion, generosity, playing by the rules, being polite and not being uppity.
Those virtues have not been strictly adhered to by Calgary's Olympics Committee, which has been beset by ticket foul-ups and scams and has been accused in the press and Parliament of going overboard in its efforts on behalf of corporate sponsors.
Nearly two of every three Canadians surveyed in a recent national poll said they will not judge the success of the Olympics by the number of medals that Canada's athletes win, but on how well Canada hosts the games.
"It's our lack of faith in ourselves, in some ways," said Jean Leiper, a sports historian who teaches physical education at the University of Calgary. "Our great Canadian stars like Anne Murray have to go to the United States before they're recognized in Canada. Canadians aren't competitive people on the international scene. They feel they'd rather be liked than to be on top of the heap. We don't push ourselves very much."
The winding "Share the Flame" torch relay through Canada's seven time zones and up to the little Eskimo settlements above the Arctic Circle has been a long-running series on the nightly television news programs.
In this "little country with the big body," as Canadian novelist and essayist Robertson Davies has described his homeland -- 25 million people spread over 3.9 million square miles, the second largest national land area after the Soviet Union -- there were more than 6.7 million applications to be one of the 6,500 chosen to carry the torch. It has been transported by runners, by disabled persons in wheelchairs, by snowmobile and by dogsled, by ferry and by jet.
"It's the sharing, the kinship that means so much," said athlete James Boyd, who ran with the torch outside the town of Whitehorse in the Yukon. "It kindles national pride."
Despite the pride, there are nagging reservations, but no outcry, about the $300 million in public funds spent to build a hockey rink, skating oval and ski jumps and trails. Organizers said these facilities, which include the 17,000-seat Saddledome, which opened in 1983 and is the home of the Calgary Flames hockey team, are the Olympics' legacy and will establish Calgary and its surroundings as a prime location for winter sports for years to come.
More than half of those questioned in the recent poll, conducted by Decima Research of Toronto, said they felt that the tax dollars would have been better spent on the poor, the homeless and the aged. A large majority, however, did not object to business support, agreeing that "the Olympic Games cost a lot of money and aren't just a sport, so we should accept corporate sponsorship."
Many here worry that Calgary will end up deep in the red, as Montreal did after the 1976 Summer Olympics. Mayor Jean Drapeau had confidently declared at the time that it was as unlikely that the games would end up in debt as it was that a man could have a baby. Montreal's overruns exceeded $1 billion, and citizens there are still paying off the deficit.
Organizers here are forecasting a modest surplus of about $30 million as a result of aggressive efforts to line up corporate sponsorship, techniques copied unabashedly from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, which racked up a $215 million surplus.
Corporate sponsors like Eastman Kodak, Visa International, Coca-Cola and Time magazine have forked over about $67 million to Calgary's Olympic Committee and another $120 million to the Interntional Olympic Committee for the right to use Olympic trademarks.
But critics here like to point out that the anticipated surplus has been made possible only by the misjudgment of the ABC television network, which paid a record $309 million for the right to broadcast 97 hours of events and is now expected to lose $40 million to $50 million.
The zeal with which the organizing committee has gone about protecting corporate sponsors has struck many in the Canadian press and in the House of Commons in Ottawa as excessive.
Late last year, Sports Minister Otto Jelinek rose in the House of Commons to rebuke the Canadian Olympic Association for filing lawsuits against 52 businesses and threatening 250 other firms with legal action to protect more than 200 patented, Olympic games-related words and symbols, some of which had been used by the establishments for 15 to 25 years.
Some of the committee's actions, such as the warning to a Calgary lounge planning a Miss Nude Olympics contest, were considered understandable. Others, such as the warning to the Olympic Drywall Co. and the Olympic Drilling Co., were not.
After the protests in Parliament, the committee dropped an injunction against Maclean's, Canada's national weekly magazine, to stop it from publishing a special Olympics issue on the grounds that Time magazine had paid $7 million to be the sponsor. But they did go through with a suit against Olympic Airways, the national airline of Greece, which flies into Canada. The airline settled the case by agreeing to provide free tickets to Greece to the committee.
Greek-born George Pantazopoulos, owner of the Olympian Dining Lounge in Ottawa, was not as accommodating. "They come from Calgary, they call themselves Calgarians," he said. "Well, I come from Olympia, so I told them I was calling my place the Olympian and they could go to hell."
In the most recent flap, a Culver City, Calif.-based firm, Olson Travel World, filed suit in court here this week, seeking to recover hundreds of thousands of dollars from its Calgary-based agent, World Marketing Services. Olympics organizers and the in-house counsel for Olson, Richard Glahe, alleged that the Calgary firm collected funds for hundreds of tickets but did not deliver them.
Among those allegedly burned were Time Inc. and the Boeing Co., Glahe said.
Two years ago, about 8,000 Americans allegedly were directed by the local Olympic committee to a private company, World Tickets Inc., which was owned by James McGregor, 37, known to his friends as "Jiminy tickets." McGregor was the organizing committee's ticketing manager at the time. Police charged McGregor with fraud and theft, and he was fired. He is awaiting trial late this spring.
Police sources said World Tickets Inc. had also deprived Americans who bought tickets of the 27-cent exchange rate advantage of the U.S. dollar.
A later controversy arose when it was disclosed that up to half of the tickets for the games had been set aside for corporate sponsors and local supporters of the Olympics, the so-called "Olympic family."
Only one Canadian, speed skater Gaetan Boucher of Quebec, brought home the gold from the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, where he won two gold medals and a bronze. Boucher, who is competing here, helped compensate for the humiliation his country endured in the 1980 winter games in Lake Placid, N.Y., when Canada failed to win any gold medal at all and finished 13th of the 37 countries competing, trailing behind such small rivals as Liechtenstein and the Netherlands.
Since then, the federal government has spent about $20 million to train Olympic athletes. Fingers are crossed in hopes that Ontarian Brian Orser, who won the world figure skating championship last year and a silver medal in the 1984 Olympics, will edge out America's Brian Boitano. And there are hopes that Boucher, who has been in a slump, will rise again.
He already has inspired young Canadians who used to shun speed skating. Their attitude was, "Europeans do this, we can't do it," said Leiper, the University of Calgary physical education instructor. "Gaetan showed we could."
As much as Leiper grouses about the lack of an intense competitive spirit in Canadians, she says she does not push her students too hard. "I believe you should take part because it's fun to do. We don't feel we have to prove ourselves."
Besides, she adds, "If we expect too much, we'll be disappointed."