ABC Sports is paying $309 million for rights to televise the 1988 Winter Olympics. That astonishing figure -- $217.5 million more than ABC paid for the 1984 Winter Games and higher than ever has been paid for a Summer Olympics -- virtually assured the network would lose money on the telecasts.

The bidding was held four years ago in Lausanne, Switzerland. Recently, some of the details were pieced together by two magazines, Sports Illustrated and Sports inc.

Each network submitted bids -- starting at $160 million -- in envelopes. And each time the International Olympic Committee decided it wanted another round of bidding, the networks submitted higher bids.

CBS dropped out early. After the fourth round, ABC and NBC were tied at $300 million. At that point, the process became an open auction. NBC won a coin flip and opened at $304 million. ABC countered at $309 million, and NBC did not bump it back. The ABC Olympic tradition was intact, and Roone Arledge -- then ABC Sports president and the man who made the top bid -- was a furious winner.

"We were mis-led by representatives of the IOC and the {Calgary} organizing committee," Arledge said at a news conference late last year. "We were assured it was not going to be a straight money bid. We were led to believe it would take into consideration things other than money, such as our custodial relationship {ABC has televised 10 of the past 12 Summer and Winter Games}. . . . They just wanted to get everything they could out of us."

"There were no assurances, verbal or otherwise," Trans World International executive Barry Frank, an adviser to the Calgary committee, told Sports Illustrated. "What Roone Arledge is saying is redolent of sour grapes."

ABC got one of the most attractive Winter Games packages ever. The Games were expanded from 12 to 16 days to allow for a valuable third weekend of TV coverage, were moved up so all the competition would be during the February ratings sweeps period, and are in Calgary, assuring plentiful live, prime-time telecasts.

But ABC -- with $309 million rights fees and about $100 million in production costs -- will generate $350 million to $390 million in advertising revenues, according to industry observers. So, in their pre-Olympics competition, it appears the IOC and Calgary were medalists while ABC finished out of the money.