The boys and girls of winter are gathering now to skate and ski, to skim and sky, to slip and slide on the snow and ice of this busy, bustling boom town. The 13th Winter Olympics will begin Tuesday.
According to the Lake Placid organizers of these Games, this is supposed to be an Olympics "in perspective," a competition that will be worth every nickel of the $150 million it will cost to stage events in nine different sports through Feb. 24.
More than 1,400 athletes from 36 nations are scheduled to compete, with the United States fielding the largest team -- 124 athletes -- in its thoroughly realistic quest to surpass the 1932 U.S. team's total of a dozen medals.
The sign on the main directory of the Olympic Press Center insists, "C'mon Olympics, we're ready."
Finishing touches are being applied to almost every facility in and around town, but there is very little anyone can do about Placid's most pressing problem.
There are less than four inches of snow on the ground and while the cross-country and ski runs have been groomed nicely with artificial snow, this town is now mostly oozing in mud and slush.
Still, for the millions expected to watch most of the 51 1/2 hours of television provided by ABC, these Games should be dazzling, with a flock of new personalities about to burst upon America's collective consciousness.
And, for the first time, two black Americans -- bobsledders Willie Davenport and Jeff Gadley -- will be competing for the U.S. team in winter competition. Davenport, a gold medal-winning hurdler in 1968, also is hoping to become the second man in Olympic history to win medals in both Summer and Winter Games. Only Eddie Eagan, who won a boxing gold in 1920 and a bobsled gold in 1932, has accomplished that feat.
There will be other intriguing stories during the dozen days of competition, not the least of which is the astounding possibility that a brother and sister can win a medal in every one of nine speed skating events.
The names are Eric and Beth Heiden, from Madison, Wis. Eric, 21, has won the world overall and world sprint titles for three straight years. Beth, a year younger, already has won two world championships.
"It's unavoidable to see Eric as the favorite to claim every gold medal in speed skating," said Peter Schotting, the coach of the U.S. men's team. Also unavoidable will be another distinction -- the first brother-sister gold medal winners in the Winter Olympics. "To be blunt about it," said their coach, Dianne Holum, "there's no one better."
There is another all-in-the-family touch in speed skating. If the Heidens falter, Peter Mueller of Milwaukee, a gold medalist in the 1,000 meters at Innsbruck, and his wife, Leah Poulos-Mueller, the current world sprint champion, should add to the U.S. medal count.
America's hope on the slopes also center on two brothers -- the twins Phill and Steve Mahre. Both are recovering from leg injuries and will be longshots in their specialties, the slalom competitions.
Still, said Phil Mahre, currently No. 1 in the World Cup combined standing, "we always do well when we race in the States. It's nice to hear people yelling for you in English, and that has to be taken into account."
Cindy Nelson, a bronze medalist in the Innsbruck Games downhill, is the only American woman with a legitimate chance at winning a medal, and she is hardly cowed by the presence in the downhill of six-time world champion Annemarie Moser-Proell and Marie-Theres Nadig, a double gold medalist in 1972. "I have as good a chance as both of them," she says.
The man with the best chance of all in Alpine competition at Whiteface Mountain will be Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark, a heavy favorite to win both the giant slalom and slalom races and a mortal lock to become a heartthrob hero of these games, a regular Bo Derek on skis.
The men's downhill is wide open. Franz Klammer, who won at Innsbruck with the most daring Olympic downhill ever, couldn't even make this year's Austrian team. Countryman Peter Wirnsberger, and two Swiss, Peter Mueller and Tony Buergler, are the main contenders. Stenmark does not ski downhill very well, but he still should be king of the mountain.
And who will be the queen of the ice?
If all goes as expected, it will be Linda Fratianne of Northridge, Calif., the current world figure-skating champion.
The hair is by Sassoon, the nose by surgeon's scalpel and the incentive by Ice Capades, waiting to sign Fratianne for the usual zillion-dollar contract the moment she unlaces her skates.
Vladimir Kovalev of the Soviet Union is the defending men's world champion and he will be pressed by America's Charlie Tickner, a spectacular free skater who could finish anywhere from first to fourth.
Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner of Los Angeles are defending world pairs champion, only because the 1976 gold medal winners, Irina Rodnina and her husband, Alexandr Zaitsev, took a year off to have a baby. They are four-time world champions, and Babilonia-Gardner will have to find solace in silver.
Two other Soviets -- Gennadi Karponosov and Natalia Linichuk -- are defending world champions in ice dancing, which made its Olympic debut four years ago. Washingtonians have a local rooting interest in this competition in the team of Stacey Smith and John Summers.
Both train in Willmington, Del., but Smith was born in Bethesda and graduated from O'Connell High School in Arlington in 1974. They are not expected to contend for gold, but a medal definitely is a possibility.
The American ice hockey team also has its sites on a bronze or silver, although the U.S.S.R's Big Red Machine is expected to win the competition, unless Afghanistan decides to become a last-minute entry.
The young American team coached by Herb Brooks of the University of Minnesota, has gone through a 60-game training schedule over the past four months. But on the last night of the competition -- Feb. 24 -- the teams expected to play for the gold are the Soviets and Czechs, who staged a classic game (won by the Soviets on a late rally) four years ago.
The U.S. seems way behind in cross country skiing, biathlon and ski jumping -- usually dominated by the Nordic nations, the Soviet Union and East Germany.
Still, the surprise of the Innsbruck games was American Bill Koch, who won a silver medal in the 30-kilometer race and says he is now back in the same sort of shape he was four years ago.
The U.S. has never won a medal in ski jumping, but that could change this year because of Jim Denney, a man who says, "I love to fly." Jumpers from Norway, East Germany and the Soviet Union usually soar longer, however, and again are medal favorites.
Winter Games masochists usually can be found at the luge and bobsled runs. The luge may be the most dangerous sport of all as riders hop on a tiny little sled -- single and double -- and race down an icy 1,000-meter track without brakes or a seat belt.
"These people must have their heads on straight or else I'm afraid to say they won't have any heads at all," said Jim Murray, manager of a U.S. luge team that has no hope to win a medal, or even crack the top 10. East Germany, as usual, should dominate the competition. It has won 10 of the 12 medals since the sport was introduced in 1964.
American bobsledders have not won a mdeal in the sport since 1956 and that probably won't change. Sleds from Switzerland, East Germany and West Germany are the favorites. The big winner, however, may be the bobsled run itself.
There have been scads of accidents on the mile-long Lake Placid run, and with Olympic medals at stake, the risks should multiply. If you make a mistake on a European run, you lose time," said U.S. Coach Gary Sheffield. "If you make a mistake here, you're in trouble."
Still, nobody at Lake Placid really wants to talk about trouble. Heaven knows, with the IOC now in session discussing the proposed U.S. boycott of Moscow, with Taiwanese athletes being denied access to the Olympic Village in another political dispute, with ticket sales flagging, talk of massive traffic tieups and with very little snow, these Games have a rocky potential.
But the athletes take over Tuesday with a full schedule of hockey games the day before the opening ceremonies. And Lake Placid organizers hope the focus will shift from politics and weather to fun and games.