This was fun. Forget the stuff about buses and how cold it was and how much everything cost. No one put a gun to anyone's head and said go to Lake Placid or else. Forget the small stuff.

And remember how these Winter Olympics made it achingly clear how much America is asking from its kids.

These Olympics, like all Olympics, were a piece of theater rich with the majesty and pain of dreams. We laughed and we cried. We all live with our dreams, and here, before our eyes, young athletes showed us it is a wonderful thing indeed to dream big, to give our hearts to something beyond the small stuff.

They called themselves "the Lynch Mob" and they drove a Volkswagen 2,000 miles in three days to get from the Rockies to the Adirondacks. They came from Granby, a little town in Colorado, to Lake Placid, a big town in their dreams.

The first time Kerry Lynch made a ski jump, he was 6 years old, and it was off a bale of hay. Here he jumped off a 20-story building, sliding down from the top of the 70-meter ski jump and sailing 250 feet. The next day he skied cross country for nine miles to finish the Nordic combined event.

No one gets rich at Nordic combined. It is, in this country at least, pure sport. Kerry Lynch, 22, a small man, paid $5,000 of his own money to make our Olympic team at Nordic combined. He's ridden bulls in rodeos and he says Nordic combined is tougher.

Why do it?

It is fun.

No other reason. It's simply fun. The Ice Capades may make Linda Fratianne rich. For the inevitable poster with his five gold medals, Eric Heiden will make a tall pile of money and he knows it, however lightly he plays it (he hired an agent, 1 1/2 years ago).

What Kerry Lynch earned here -- a 17th-place finish -- is a rich memory. His dad, who sent him over the bale of hay, was here. His mother and brother were here. He has a daughter, named Kera Jo, 4 1/2 months old, and when he finished 17th, far far from any tangible glory, the first thing Lynch did was go to his wife, Diane, who kissed him and made it even more fun.

In the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, John Akii-Bua won the 400-meter hurdles. The son of an Ugandan tribal chief, Akii-Bua, trained in a rain forest. What he did when he won, when he saw on a giant stadium scoreboard that he had set an Olympic record, was dance a dance of joy uncontained. He pranced on the million-dollar track, lifted high each leg, dancing to the joy that made it impossible for him to stand still and he danced clear around the track, the cheers ringing in his ears, the dream of the rain forest made real.

If Beth Heiden and Cindy Nelson cried because they reached so far and grasped so little, we cried with them. Tai Babilonia touched us forever, her moment taked from her by cruel circumstance, and Heidi Press came down Whiteface Mountain to give up a smile that said it's wonderful to be a kid dreaming.

And that is what hurts so much now.

The idea of not going to the Olympics in Moscow hurts a lot. The idea of taking dreams away hurts.

We are asking our athletes to pay for our politics with their dreams.

They will pay. They will be hurt, but they will pay. The young people of this country have always paid the price when it is right, and without doubt it is right that Americans not honor Moscow, not glorify Moscow, by taking part in the Olympics there, even as Soviet tanks and guns steal freedom from the people of Afghanistan.

It hurts, though, and the pain is compounded by President Carter's insistence on a deadline for a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Why did he need that Feb. 20 deadline? By announcing on that day American athletes would not go to Moscow, the president undercut the United States Olympic Committee. If the International Olympic Committee decides the USOC has been coerced by its government, the IOC can banish Americans from the Olympic movement. b

Worse, the president's insistence on a deadline gives the Soviets no chance to say, "Well, now we've had our Bay of Pigs. The Afghan people are more than we want to handle. We're getting out as soon as we can round up our tanks. You can send a United Nations peacekeeping force to check it out. We want the Olympics that badly.

It would be good politics for the president to rethink his insistence on a deadline. He needed no deadline in Iran, why one in Moscow? Move the deadline to May 24. That's the date the USOC is working with, the deadline for accepting or rejecting Olympic invitations. Give the USOC time to do its necessary political maneuvers to stay in the good graces of the IOC.

Give the Soviets time to back down. If the Olympics are in fact as important to them as we think they are, who knows? Should the Soviets leave Afghanistan to save their Olympics, they would be seen as chastised and the president would be applauded by the tens of millions of Americans who today are still dazzled by the memories of these Winter Games.

The memories are sweet. A mother of one hockey player said the Americans at the medals ceremony looked like kids, while the Soviet players looked like hardened criminals.That's ridiculous. The Soviet hockey players were gentlemen. They played the game the way it ought to be played -- hard, fast and clean. As the Americans danced their dance of joy in the giddy moments after beating the Russians, the Russians stood together at the far end of the ice, melancholy figures certainly, but not angry, not mean-spirited.

We'll remember that. It is what the Olympics are supposed to be about. They are not supposed to be about politics and deadlines. They are dreams and trying. As the American star, goalie Jim Craig, stood in line to get his gold medal last night, a Soviet player in line next to him reached out with both hands and pulled Craig toward him.

They hugged and laughed together.