In their sorrow, the Taiwanese still muster an occasional laugh.
"Maybe you can borrow his pass," the biathlon coach said to Shen Li-chien, nodding toward a reporter.
"With your pass, I can bring my rifle and skis inside the (Olympic) village?" Shen asked. "As a journalist?"
"Simply tell them that as a reporter you want some experience in shooting and skiing," the coach, Hsieh Hua-cheng, said. "That's why you bring the gun."
Shen's smile quickly faded into his more familiar expression of late and he said, "Without the pass, you cannot do anything."
In truth, there is a pass waiting inside the Olympic Village, for Shen and Hsieh and the other 16 Taiwanese athletes and two coaches either here or expected Monday. There is one hitch: they must deny their heritage, march in the opening and closing ceremonies behind a flag and to an anthem other than their own.
This is the second Olympics that the Taiwanese find themselves outside the gates. The Olympic boat people, somebody called them. They were screaming and holding firm to a principle deeper than sport long before that suddenly became popular in the United States.
Because if suited their purpose before the Montreal Games in '76, U.S. political and athletic officials not to support the Taiwanese, or to spank the Canadian government for denying them access unless they changed their name, flag and anthem. All athletes, or none at all, the U.S. could have said -- and should have said. This country said nothing.
Soon American athletes may know the depression those such as Shen have known for months and years, that being denied a chance to compete is worse than failure.
For a few hours last week, Shen and the other two biathletes -- whose discipline includes shooting and cross-country skiing -- the two cross-country skiers, seven bobsleders and lugers and five Alpine skiers dared dream that they might compete here on their own terms, as the Republic of China.
New York State Supreme Court Judge Norman L. Harvey ruled that for the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee to deny that to a Taiwanese cross-country skier, Liang Ran-Guey, would be a violation of his constitutional rights.
"No foreign visitor in the State of New York may be discriminated against because of his national origin by any organization being supported by public funds," Harvey said in his 10-page decision.
"The mere fact that the IOC (International Olympic Committee from which Lake Placid officials draw their authority) considers that because participation in the Games in voluntary, and therefore subject to such rules as it enacts, it does not follow that invitees waive the human rights to which they are entitled."
Hurray. There are two Germanys in the IOC and two Koreas. At last, somebody had the nerve and power to force the IOC to allow two Chinas, it having buckled to mainland China late last year. Celebration was long and hearty in the small hotel the Taiwanese occupy several miles from the Olympic Village.
"We packed and were ready (to follow Liang into the Olympic Village)," Hsieh said.
"We even got dressed in our uniforms," added Shen.
A short time later, another judge, A. Franklin Mahoney in Albany, overrruled Harvey. And Taiwanese hearts sank. They unpacked and waited, for another judgment due after yet another hearing Monday morning.
"We are depressed again," Hsieh said. For Shen, the irony is all too evident and all too disheartening. In the '76 Winter Games at Innsbruck, before Canadian Prime Minster Trudeau and the ICC turned him into an athletic pariah, he competed in biathlon.
It was splendid for him to represent the Republic of China at Innsbruck. As a representative of the Republic of China at Lake Placid, he cannot even practice, cannot prepare properly in case another judge with a mind supports Harvey.
"Without that pass, you go nowhere," Shan said. While the rest of the world has access to the facilities where the events will be contested, the Taiwanese are reduced to running the Lake Placid streets and nearby countryside. Usually, they run five miles in the morning and three or four in the afternoon.
The law and common sense do not permit Shan and the other biathletes target practice. It was an erring shooting eye that caused Shen much disappointment at Innsbruck.
This is his fifth year of biathlon. He started for fanciful and practical reasons: he loved skiing and had entered the army. Because there is just one mountain worthy of the sport on his homeland, Shen trains much of the time in Europe.
"Some of our people came here from Austria," said the coach. "Some others came from Italy and Germany."
All of them wait anxiously, hopefully.
"The idea of the Olympics is to benefit human beings, not special groups," said Lee Yen, secretary general of the ROC Olympic Committee. "This is not so much in our own interest but also for the future of the Olympic movement."
What if Monday's decision also goes against them? And the next -- and final -- one?
"I don't know what the others are going to do," Hsieh said. "But I will stay here -- and try to make people aware of what's happening to us."
He and Shen and another man who sometimes acted as translator were sitting in the living room of their small, tidy, European-style hotel. Perhaps because they have been in similar situations before, denied the right to compete so often in amateur sport's most intense spotlight, they did not remain totally sad.
Hsieh recalled earlier trips to the United States and one telephone conversation. A polite and precise woman on the other end of the line wanted to be sure of his last name. Would he pronounce it?
And his first name?
"Hua-Cheng," he said, rushing the words a bit. To which the woman replied, "God bless you."