The signs are everywhere.

"Oh sport! You are peace."

"Sport, peace, progress."

"Sport, peace, friendship."

Near Red Square is a 30-foot portrait of a benign-looking Leonid Brezhnev. To his right is an equally large sign that, in three languages, says: "The U.S.S.R. will continue to support the Olympic movement as before." To his left, a sign of similar size -- and also in Russian, French and English -- says: "The Olympic Games reflect mankind's inconquerable aspirations to peace and progress."

Less than three minutes after I copied that last bit of inspiration this morning, I walked back to Red Square. I had rushed there perhaps 40 minutes earlier because smoke could be seen billowing from an area about midway between Lenin's tomb and the opposite street. It had seemed like a small fire, although a persistent one, and one wire service later reported that it may have been started by a man bent on self-immolation. The paranoiac police had shooed everyone from the area.

Now there were no hints of any disturbance, not a whiff of smoke in the air, and a naive Japanese tourist innocently clicked a few long-distance shots of the tomb. Immediately, three goons in white uniform jackets leaped toward him and intimidated him into surrendering the camera. They ripped it open, grabbed the film and tore it to shreds.

So much for peace and friendship.

There were so many contraditions to these games and this city. Anyone who looks beyond the pageantry of the Olympics finds almost no substance. It's ideal is wonderful.Countries ought to make a fuss over their athletes, now and then, with all the pomp and tradition they can muster.

Everyone almost aches for a genuine Olympics. But just when a bit of hope appears, say, a Daley Thompson (the decathlon winner), a man who shares joy at being special, comes a dark shadow. This year's was women's gymnastics.

That sport has come along half-cirle in eight years. It rocketed to universal popularity when television spotted a human-looking Soviet named Olga Korbut and made her the heroine of Munich.Little girls in households all over America took off their shoes and made believe the back of the living-room couch was a balance beam.

The sport had infinite appeal. Little dolls twisting beautifully on and above strange equipment. Nadia Comaneci made perfection seem a cinch four years later in Montreal. The nasty side -- the pettiness, the power-obsessed people of the sport -- were revealed here.

Inside each of those gaunt-looking bodies, there may be a wonderful little teen-ager having immense fun. But all we see are unsmiling and frail machines being programmed to hit 9.95 on the uneven bars. And coaches and judges constantly bickering. Figure-skating might not be the seamiest sporting nest after all.

The emotional high of these games came in team handball. Surely, no one could be as dizzy with delight as the Soviet men after beating Yugoslavia, in the final seconds, by the five goals necessary to successfully advance in the qualifying round.

Team handball is nothing like an American might believe. Or at least an American accustomed to whacking a small ball about a tight and thickly walled room. This handball is played on a padded-floor court about the size of a large basketball gym. It combines bits of basketball, lacrosse and soccer-like penalty shots.

Anyone without a mean streak had better stick with paddle tennis. Team handball is a game for fullbacks and linebackers. Bodies fly all over the court. Blood flows now and then because forearms to the head and neck generally go unpunished, as six defenders around a semicircle try and keep six attackers from throwing a ball smaller and harder than a volleyball past a goalie and into a goal about 10 feet wide and seven feet high.

The Soviets have a defender more evil-looking than anyone I have seen in sport. Evgeny Chernyshov is about 6-foot-7, with a drooping mustache, ominous-looking hands and an air that suggests Darth Vader and Ma Barker might have met somewhere one night.

Chernyshov was livid nearly the entire game against the Yugoslavs. He screamed at his coach -- and even Lombardi would cower at this fellow -- at his teammates, at the opposition. And the game will linger longer than most Olympic events with anyone who saw it.

The Soviet reserve goalkeeper, brought in especially for such moments, stopped five Yugoslav penalty shots. Penalty shots are when a man stands about 22 feet from the goal and gets an unmolested throw. They are almost unstoppable. Nikolai Tomin batted five away.

By the end of the game, Tomin was rolling along the bench and hugging another player, so tense was the drama. and when Alexander Anpilogov scored on a penalty shot with a few seconds left to assure the five-goal victory, the emotional binge seemed unique to these Games.

Chernyshov even was crying.

Still, the East Germans beat the Soviets for the team handball gold medal. And their coach, Paul Tidemann, revealed that his breed has one worldwide characteristic. When asked why the team had been sluggish during a tie with Hungary, Tidemann gave an answer every American coach could appreciate.

"Too many distractions," he said.

Separated by thick bars at Lenin Central Stadium, a Soviet guard and two U.S. areporters had not been understanding each other for several minutes. The situation seemed hopeless. Finally, the guard left for a moment and returned with a young woman.

"English?" said said.


"What's up?"

There were other light moments -- and several kindnesses.A press officer at the track and field events once cut through the Soviet bureaucracy with amazing dexterity. Five minutes before he ran, I wanted to talk with John Akii-Bua. Normally, this is an impossibility on such short notice. Messages must be seent to delegations, security advised, all levels of press command alerted.

Five minutes after Akii-Bua ran, we were talking. No American public relations wizard ever hustled more.

But just when the Soviets show their kind side, they all of a sudden parade Yasser Arafat through the Olympic Village. Just when they begin spreading a bit of Olympic glory around the Communist bloc, they get greedy again and push the Olympic spirit to the limit to win both 1,600-meter races Friday.

And after all the world and Olympic records are tabulated comes the reminder from one of the IOC drug commission members, Dr. Arnold Becket, that any athlete with the inclination can cheat and get away with it. Many would, he had said.

Few minds were changed by these three weeks. Communications were superior during the 1976 Games in Montreal. Transporftation was much better here than at Lake Placid. Never in history has an Olympics seen such security as this.

There are an estimated 75,000 security personnel lurking here in one form or another, or about 25 times the entire population of Lake Placid.

Without the Americans and other boycotting countries, these were the Olympics in name only. They were more of a success than President Carter wanted, but not so grand as the Soviets believe. The competition was not enthralling enough, after all, to lure Leonid from his vacation.

And we have not seen the real Moscow these three weeks. There are no youngsters in sight. Gone on holiday from the city, we are told. But aren't the Olympics supposed to be for them?

There is food here for press and foreign officials; nothing special to Americans but more than lavish by Moscow standards. Presumably, meat and vegetables and fruit were commandeered from the 15 republics to make a stunning three-week show of opulence.

But then costs at Lake Placid were at least $7 million more than revenues.

Montreal's deflicit was geometrically higher. The nationalistic fervor so distasteful here in certain to be nearly as bad as Los Angeles in 1984.

During the Montreal Games, the security necessitated by the Munich massacres and cramped facilities caused Monique Berlioux, executive director of the IOC, to say: "The athletes are penned up in an iron collar and one doesn't feel the kind of holiday spirit that should prevail at such games. These Games have no soul and the Olympic spirit is completely lacking."

It still is.