Before we begin today's Olympic coverage, let's go up close and personal with Jim McKay, who is threatening to go so far over the hill he'll need a cab to get back (the Olympic buses aren't running). It seems clear that McKay sees himself as the FDR of sportscasting, that he longs for the thrill of victory, sitting up by Olympic torch, all snuggy pooh in his cashmere sweater, babbling along, setting a new world and Olympic record for most tripe spewed in any given hour.

How does this guy avoid the hook? Does he have incriminating photos of Roone and the Olympic raccoon? And if the Olympics need a host so badly, why not Chuck Barris? Barris would have known what to do when Ken Read ("another of those wild and crazy Canadians," thanks Giffer) took a header 15 seconds into his run, thereby ruining the 450 hours of tape ABC had in the can on him. Barris would have gonged him.

And while we're on the subject of the up-close and personals -- those film pieces that are so stupidly transparent they make People magazine look like "War and Peace" -- the Ken Read and the Peter Mueller pieces deserve special commendations. Didn't Read look great scurrying around trees like a chipmunk? Is he a downhiller, or is he auditioning for Dopey the Dwarf at Disneyland? And maybe of Mueller didn't "slow down to smell the roses" he might have won the medal ABC was so sure he would win.

Let's make those up-close and personals meaningful.

Let's have one on the guys who scraped Read and the American skier, Karl Anderson, off the side of White-faced Mountains when they wiped out so early in their runs.

Quick questions: What is the official ambulance of the Winter Olympics? Who is the official psychiatrist for the U.S. Ski Jumping team? Where's Howard?

I don't know about you, but it did my heart good knowing that Costa Rica, Lebanon and Andorra sent teams to the Olympics. It did my heart good knowing there was an Andorra. I thought they were just goats.

And let's hear it for those Mongolians. They never file their applications. They never fill out their forms. But every four years they just show up. (They never need housing. They just move into the place that the Taiwanese vacate when the IOC kicks them out.) The Mongolians are my favorite Olympic team. "When the bell rings, we're here, Jack. You can count on it. Almost didn't make it this time because we were a little slow milking the musk ox. Okay, let's get started. Can somebody rent us a bobsled? Hey, what's the story -- if we rent it for the week, do we get unlimited mileage?" The Mongolians are by far the toughest-looking group of competitors. Nobody messes with them. Nobody lends them anything, either. Four years ago the Swiss lent them a luge and the Mongolians ate it.

Aren't the commercials fun? Bet you never thought they could show so many commercials? What is that stuff they have on TV between the commercials? Is that the Olympics? You're kidding?

Do you know what a "wish sandwich" is? That's when you have two pieces of bread, and you wish you had some meat. I look at all these commericials as the bread.

There seems to be a new trend in pairs figure skating. The man is eight years older and 100 pounds heavier than the woman, who isn't quite a woman because she is 12 years old. She weighs 85 pounds. This is very good for making all those difficult lift moves. Now the man can lift the woman easily over his head and throw her into Vermont. This will come in very handy when one of the moves required of the pairs will be shot-put.

A few words about Dick Button, the most entertaining of the Olympic sportcasters. I am a fan of Dick Button. For years, I thought he did the best job of any commentator. He was instructive without being overbearing, enthusiastic without being chauvinistic, analytical, honest. And he had one unique quality among all his peers -- at any moment he might break down and weep, either with joy or sadness. Most sportscasters aren't a threat to do that. But Button goes for the gusto.If he was a weatherman, a simple occluded front might make him cry like a baby.

The other night, when Randy Gardner and Tai Babilonia had to withdraw from the pairs because Bardner's leg could not support anything heavier than a rice krispy, Button put on an incredible performance. While forecasting that Gardner and Babilonia were in "for a long evening" because Gardner obviously wasn't fit, Button told his audience, "I've got to tell you, my heart is in my mouth."

When they officially withdrew, Button said, "Can you hear me? They have withdrawn. Aaaaaaaa." (McKay was right there with a snappy comeback, "Terrible. Terrible. Terrible.") The camera work was excellent. The shot of Babilonia crying was worth 20,000 words.

Button choked back the tears and went on, giving quite an impressive explanation of how Gardner might have pulled a thigh muscle by not warming up enough during his training. And then Button said that perhaps they should have skated, anyway, gone through the motions of a bad performance with the hope that the leg would heal for the next performance.

But when he got the pair's coach, John Nicks, on camera for an interview, Button said something like, "I'm so proud of Randy for not competing and not risking injury to Tai. I'm taking my hat off to him."A 180-degree turn if ever there was one. And all he could do was stand there and look foolish when Nicks said, "Randy wanted to skate.I was the one to withdraw them."

Button's encore was a classic. It came some 20 minutes later, after the Soviet pair, Rodnina and Zaitsev, skated.

After conducting a noninterview with them -- thankfully he at least semi-asked them about Babilonia and Gardner having to withdraw -- Button handed them a gift for their young son, Sascha, a marvelous Willard-esque touch.

McKay: "A Valentine's gift, eh Richard?"

Great theater. Author! Author!

And now, the awards:

GOOD WORK (Gold): Jim Lampley, street reporting.

GOOD WORK (Silver): Al Michaels and Ken Dryden, U.S.A. vs. Czechoslovakia hockey.

GOOD WORK (Bronze): Frank Gifford and Bob Beattie, Alpine ski events.

BEST UNIFORMS: Austrian downhill racers. They look like barber poles flying down the mountain.

BEST HAT: Curt Gowdy. Brown cowboy hat.

WORST HAT: Keith Jackson. Dead seal with flaps.

COMEBACK STORY: Gowdy. On events where, even if the mispronounces names, no one will know. And how tough is it to say, "Switzerland. Sled No. 1."

MOST INANE QUESTION: Jackson (good ol' Conepone Keith himself) to Sheila Young Ochowicz. "I gotta ask ya. They're probably gonna break your Olympic record today. Did you bring your heartbreak pills?"

MOST FLASH: Any "All That Jazz" commercial.


ULTIMATE BORE: That snooze-ola fireside chat with Al Michaels and the two men from the 1960 U.S. Olympic hockey team. What dreck.

EDWIN NEWMAN AWARD: To Jim McKay for telling us that it's killo-METER, not kill-OM-eter. How could we survive without knowing that?

SANDY HILL AWARD: To Sandy Hill. Now get out of here you knuckle-head, and I mean it.

PURE GOLD: ABC camera work. Outstanding.