Spirits are high and so are the competitors, and Thursday's torch lighting atop Pikes Peak will emphasize the altitude factor at the second National Sports Festival.
Dottie Lamm, wife of Colorado's governor, will be the first of 26 bearers who will carry the two-pound torch from the summit of the 14,110-foot mountain to Gary Berry Stadium for Thursday night's opening ceremonies.
Women and men will alternate, with the defending 5,000-meter champion, Colorado native Ted Castaneda, assigned the honor of lighting the flame. He will do so, that is, if the torch does not run out of fuel en route, as it did a year ago.
Anything can happen in the shadow of the Rockies, as did last year, when a hailstorm erased a day of track and field activity and local fans became enamored with the orphaned sport of team handball.
On Tuesday a violent storm blew in from the mountains and deposited more than an inch of rain on the southwest part of the city in a few minutes. Those among the 3,000 athletes who chose to visit the nearby gold mining area of Cripple Creek encountered marble-sized hail that slicked the roads. A van turned over just outside that small town on a hhway turned December white by the barrage of hail.
The athletes, who began arriving July 16, have been evident all over the Pikes Peak region, wearing either school jerseys or sweat suits color keyed to the areas they represent here -- blue for East, green for South, gold for Midwest and red for West.
Some have even roamed as far as 1,100-foot deep Royal Gorge, outside prison-famed Canon City where vultures feasting on a dead cow along the road Tuesday provided tenderfoots with a touch of the real West.
For many participants in the 31 festival sports, the opportunity for meaninful summer competition was the lure. But for some specialists it was the chance of a world record at a high altitude -- the Air Force Academy track is 6,440 feet above sea level.
Coast Guard's Ed Tucker, coach of the East men's track team, predicted today that his charges were capable of world records in the 110-meter high hurdles, the 400-meter relay and the 1,600-meter relay.
The hurdler, of course, is Maryland's Renaldo Nehemiah, and he will team in the 400-meter event with Steve Riddick and D. C. International sprinters Cliff Wiley and John Christian. If that quartet misses the U. S. World Cup team's 1977 mark of 38.03 seconds, it could still fall to the potent South entry of Mike Roberson, Mel Lattany, Harvey Glance and Bill Collins.
The reduced air density and consequent faster time potential has persuaded Steve Williams to join Glance and Riddick in the 100-meter field. James Sanford and Billy Snoddy were last-minute entries in the 200 and, with Tony Darden and Willie Smith already guaranteeing a fast 400, this could be a clocking sprinters dream about.
Nobody is ignoring the long-distance folks, although altitude is not their cup of air. Sunday's marathon will begin higher up, in nearby Monument, providing a downhill course to the finish line. For an added fillip, female entries have been given a 22-minutes head start.
The National Broadcasting Co. is providing seven hours of national television coverage, with announcers like Dick Enberg, Mike Adamle, Bryant Gumble and Bruce Jenner receiving dress rehearsal scrutiny before taking their voices to Moscow. There is a Cosell in the picture, too, but don't scratch the festival from your viewing schedule on that account -- it won't be Howard but his daughter, Hillary, an NBC producer.
The U.S. Olympic Committee was forced to make up a considerable monetary deficit for the 1978 inaugural, but this year's festival is a guaranteed moneymaker. Coca Cola paid $500,000 as the chief sponsor and posted numerous billboards on all incoming routes to inform visitors of same. NBC spent $500,000 for the TV rights and Colorado Springs guaranteed $285,000 to retain the host's role. Already, ticket sales have topped last year's total gate revenue of $110,000.
Sold out first were the figure skating sessions at Broadmoor and, with Linda Fratinne iced by a sore ankle, the early birds may feel stuck with a worm. However, the world pairs champions Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner are here, along with 1978 world champion Charlie Tickner and his frequent American challenger, Scot Cramer, who has promised to unveil his new "triple triple combination," never before attempted in competition.
Despite general enthusiasm locally for the festival, there has been some grumbling. For example, a grizzled fisherman displayed his meager catch of two perch and two sunfish at Prospect Lake and blamed the canoers and kayakers for driving the fish away from his hook.
Motorists near the Olympic Training Center on East Boulder Street found themselves tarred and detoured. The Olympic Park, to be dedicated Thursday morning, was overrun today by workers surfacing a new parking lot, laying sod and planting trees. It seems the contractor has umtil Friday to complete a job that had barely begun on Tuesday.
All that bustle, plus the resurfacing of Boulder Street, did not distract the field hockey players from their appointed tasks, which seem to be round-the-clock practice at the Training Center fields.
"Write something about field hockey," said a lady providing directions to the press center. Now that she presumably is satisfied, there are 30 more sports waiting for their day in the sun -- or hail.