CALGARY, FEB. 13 -- Everyone knew the winds here blew wild and capricious, but no one expected them to carry the Rockies away on opening day of the XV Winter Olympics. That they did, in a small but symbolic way, when a bitter northern gust deflated, then ripped and ruined an inflatable mock-up of the famous Canadian mountains before 60,000 shivering onlookers at opening ceremonies in McMahon Stadium today.
That left producers of a world-televised Olympic extravaganza without a centerpiece for their very first production number, a Tribute to the Rockies.
But with vintage Canadian pluck, the band played on, and two hours later, after a rousing rendition of "O Canada!" that brought the crowd to its feet, the Games were on, right on cue.
For nearly 1,800 athletes from 57 countries, the biggest pool of winter athletic talent ever assembled for these quadrennial international exercises, it was on with the 16-day show.
Even before the huge Olympic flame was lit by 12-year-old figure skater Robyn Perry, the puck was being dropped for a hockey match in which West Germany upset Czechoslovakia, 2-1.
In the evening's only competition, also in hockey, the Soviet Union beat Norway, 5-0, and the United States outscored Austria, 10-6.
But the eyes of the world -- a television audience estimated at up to 2 billion -- rested first on McMahon, where howling, cold winds swirled around a colorful mob from around the world.
Deep in section 52, where the north wind blew fiercest, Ole Hamners of Norway, who won his trip here in a contest, drew his fur coat tight, tugged his fur hat down over his ears and hoisted the Norwegian flag atop an 18-foot collapsible fishing rod he'd spirited in.
"Whoa," he said and absorbed a shock when the flag hit full height and took a whack from a 30-mph gust, bowing the rod. "Now we'll see if this pole is as strong as it's meant to be."
The weather here is a worry to everyone. If it's not too cold, as it was five days ago at minus 10 Fahrenheit, it's too hot, as it was two days ago at 50 degrees. It's a schizophrenic climate, and every change brings wind. So it was today, after balmy temperatures Friday evening gave way overnight to a howling norther this morning.
"Damn the weather," said Ron Jeffery, an Olympic volunteer ushering at the stadium. "Beautiful yesterday, beautiful tomorrow and we have this." He gestured at the rows of huddled masses in the 14-degree cold.
But for all the inconveniences, today's celebration of Canada's Olympic triumph was hard to fault.
The climax, as always, was the parade of athletes onto the open stadium floor, which was covered in tons of white sand from British Columbia, the better to approximate for TV the look of snow, which is spotty here.
The athletes convened at the University of Calgary and marched through a corner portal to big cheers, including for such unlikely entries as the small contingents from balmy Fiji, Jamaica, Mexico, the Philippines, Lebanon and Guam.
Near the end came archrivals the Soviet Union and the United States, one after the other, each to a rousing reception about equal in volume.
By their proximity, the Soviets, dressed in charcoal and gray furs, and the Americans, in calf-length dusters, fedoras and long scarves, reflected the political harmony of these Winter Games, which never have been disrupted by boycott or incident.
U.S. figure skating gold medal hopeful Debi Thomas said as she arrived at the staging area, "We're a little bundled up here. To tell the truth, we can't move."
Debbie Armstrong, a gold medal skier in the 1984 Games in Yugoslavia, said of the colorful U.S. costumes, designed with the help of 1984 Los Angeles Olympics choreographer David Wolper: "They're better than the cowboy suits they had us in last time."
Entertainment sequences that preceded the parade were rich with cowboy and Indian motifs and at least 50 horses scampered around from time to time. It was a Canadian show, after all, complete with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and feet stamped and cheers rang out when Gordon Lightfoot sang, "Alberta Bound."
A small band of Canadian Indians, the Lubicon Lake tribe, a branch of the Cree who have been pressing for 48 years over land rights here, staged a protest this morning as thousands of Calgarians greeted the arrival of the Olympic torch.
The Indians' motto on a large banner, "Share the Shame," mocked the theme of the 88-day torch relay, "Share the Flame."
But no protests or disruptions marred the ceremonies.
People began gathering as early as 9 a.m. for the 1 p.m. local time start, and as many as 20,000 took advantage of a free breakfast put on by Maxwell House. The coffee, sadly, was only lukewarm.
Elsewhere, crowds gathered at souvenir stands to shell out $42 apiece for sweatshirts and $5 for pins, the ubiquitous Olympic mementoes that are traded with the fervor of a Mideastern bazaar.
Sweatshirts? Sandy Montana was wearing three of them, plus a jacket, as she hawked her souvenirs from a cart outside the gates. "This wind is really sharp," she said. "Everybody wants hats. It's the one thing I didn't bring."
On a grander scale, the Olympics means big business and international recognition to the band of Calgarians who seven years ago sold their town to the International Olympic Committee as site for the 1988 Games.
This oil, grain and cattle center of 640,000 people is little known outside western Canada, and Calgarians smart when it's referred to in the United States as a small town north of Missoula, Mont.
"Now maybe the Americans will see that we are not a backwoodsy, hick kind of place," said Ted Trewella, a sergeant at the Canadian armed forces base here. He was marching through the crowd, brandishing a maple leaf flag in order "to be seen," he said, "maybe to get on international television."
The guru of the Calgary Olympics, chairman Frank King, an oilman on sabbatical, drew the loudest cheers from the stands when he said, "The dream has become a reality. Look at what you have created. Be proud."
Then it was on with the show, and none too soon for dancer Kimberley Cummings, 13, one of 4,000 performers who had spent 18 months practicing twice a week for a stint in the opening show. She was hopping from frigid foot to foot, waiting for her moment.
"I didn't sleep last night," she said.
"There's certain parts where we do things, and lots of kids don't get it done in time," she said.
But if Cummings and her colleagues fouled up, no one in Calgary is any the wiser.
And the Games began.