It was incorrectly reported yesterday that the XV Winter Olympic Games are the first Olympics held in Canada. They are the first Winter Olympics in Canada; Montreal hosted the 1976 Summer Games. (Published 2/14/88)

CALGARY, FEB. 12 -- The Olympics of ice and snow, the games of parkas and long johns, the battles of figure and speed skaters, of skiers and lugers, all begin Saturday in the spectacle of the opening ceremonies of the XV Winter Olympics.

Nearly 1,800 athletes representing 57 nations are expected to march into McMahon Stadium, a 65,000-seat structure more accustomed to hosting professional and college football games, for the ceremonies that begin at 3 p.m. EST. They will assemble in colorful uniforms behind their countries' flags; the Olympic torch will enter the arena; the flame will be lighted; oaths spoken; anthems played and sung.

The ABC network (WJLA-TV-7 in Washington) will begin its coverage at 2:30 EST.

The quaint, staid and usually uncontroversial Games of Winter will officially open, beginning what is being billed as the biggest and most important year in the 92-year history of the modern Olympic movement.

The delegation from the United States, which will enter fourth from last, will be the largest, with about 150 athletes, coaches and officials expected to march behind flag-bearer Lyle Nelson, a 39-year-old biathlete competing in his fourth Olympics. Host Canada's delegation, which will march in last, is the next largest.

As the Olympics begin, so does another blast of winter, Alberta style. The warm Chinook winds that melted this city the past few days are expected to be replaced by arctic north winds that will drop temperatures well below freezing -- to 14 to 19 degrees Fahrenheit -- by the beginning of the ceremonies. Winds of 35 mph and gusts up to 90 with snow and blowing snow also are predicted by Environment Canada, the nation's weather service. Winds were so bad at Mount Allan, the site of the men's downhill ski racing on Sunday, that today's practice run was canceled.

"It is very unfair with the winds," said Pirmin Zurbriggen of Switzerland, the favorite to win the gold medal Sunday. When critics voiced opposition to the man-made mountain as the site of the prestigious Alpine race, swirling winds were their top concern.

Back in town, the weather also could be a problem for the 7,000 performers (1,000 of whom are Canadian children), five Indian tribes, 150 horses and 1,000 pigeons set to participate in the two-hour ceremonies.

Forecasters are warning of "unpleasant conditions" for the ceremonies. If things get really bad, a film of a dress rehearsal of their performance, taped Thursday, will be shown at the stadium.

Even before the ceremonies end, a puck will be dropped and competition in the Olympics will begin. At 4:30 p.m. EST, medal favorite Czechoslovakia faces West Germany in ice hockey at the Saddledome, home of the Calgary Flames of the National Hockey League. Later Saturday, two more hockey games will be played: the gold-medal favorite Soviet Union plays Norway at 6:30 p.m. in an arena called the Corral, next to the Saddledome, and the United States plays Austria at 8:30 p.m. at the Saddledome. The U.S. team, which should challenge for a medal, is heavily favored in that game. The three hockey games are the only competition planned Saturday, the first of 16 consecutive days of competition in 10 medal sports. In all, 138 medals will be awarded.

Because their game is so soon after the ceremonies, the U.S. hockey players will not participate in the festivities at McMahon Stadium, which should resemble a halftime show set to an international beat.

"I guess I'll watch on TV," said center Scott Fusco, one of two U.S. hockey team members who played on the 1984 team that finished seventh in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. "It's too bad. This is one of the great things in sports. But we have a job to do."

Eight years ago, the U.S. hockey team shocked the Soviets and then went on to beat Finland and win the gold medal in one of the most improbable upsets in sports. The two U.S. Olympic teams since then have been trying to live up to unreasonably high expectations.

No one knows this better than Mike Eruzione, captain of the 1980 hockey team, the man who scored the goal that beat the Soviets. Now a commentator here for ABC Sports, he was sitting in the Saddledome stands the other day, watching practice. Pretty soon, every reporter who came to watch practice was sitting with Eruzione, more interested in him than in the new American team.

"A bronze medal here would be like a gold medal in '80," he said. "But I do think this is the most wide-open Olympics {in hockey} of any I've seen, and that goes back to 1976. The problem is that other countries know about our team now. I had people tell me after 1980, 'You fooled us, you fooled us.' Well, we're not going to fool anyone anymore."

Still, Eruzione knows these players and likes their chances.

"They're a good bunch of kids, and their dreams are the same as ours were. I believe they can win a medal. After what we did in 1980, you have to believe anything can happen. . . . What happened in 1980 gave all of them a dream, that something like that can happen again."

Meanwhile, the pressure is on Canada to win a gold medal or two or three for the home fans. Perhaps it will come in men's figure skating with Brian Orser; perhaps in speed skating with Gaetan Boucher, who won two golds in 1984; perhaps in hockey with a team and a goaltender -- Sean Burke -- that many see as having the best chance to challenge the Soviets for the gold.

"You can have a miracle on ice in Calgary as you did in Lake Placid," said Canadian Richard Pound, International Olympic Committee vice president and an unabashed fan of the home team. "But I don't think anyone's mortgaging the farm for that to happen."

Up until the Games' eve, there was still some question exactly which athletes would be marching in as members of the U.S. speed skating team.

Tonight, though, a hastily assembled U.S. appeals panel rejected the protest of a skater bumped at the last minute from next Thursday's 1,000-meter race. After a four-hour hearing, the panel let stand team coach Mike Crowe's decision to replace Dave Cruikshank, who won the U.S. trials in December, with Tom Cushman, who was sixth in the trials but had better times in the event than Cruikshank in the six weeks leading to the Olympics.

Aside from that controversy and the one involving the U.S. bobsled team because of the inclusion of pro football player Willie Gault, these Games slide into world view this weekend with an aura of good feeling. Snow is in the air. It's getting cold. Canada's first-ever Olympics are about to begin.

About $240 million was spent to build five new sports facilities, including the first indoor speed skating oval in North America. Another couple million dollars was spent on the opening ceremonies. Years of preparation culminate in the events that begin Saturday, one of the Olympics' greatest days.

And even if it's bitterly cold outside, who can complain? They bring a warm spot to many cold hearts, these Winter Olympics.