CALGARY -- Perhaps I'm being premature. By the time these words are digested and this section becomes comfy bedding for hamsters, international hell may have broken loose at the XV Winter Olympics.

It almost always does. Still, the tingly feeling here is that an outbreak of sporting peace and goodwill is at hand. For the first time in a generation, the global sandbox is quiet. All everybody seems to want to do, on the eve of the opening ceremonies, is play.

Naive readers and those who only follow athletic torches every four years may be bewildered. Aren't the Olympics, summer and winter, the absolute essence of harmony and pure sport?

They are not.

The International Olympic Committee and, to a lesser extent, television have tried to plant that notion. But the more attention the Olympics gets, the more reasonable people realize it can be as political and petty as anything else, from the Super Bowl to local bowling.

As seems natural, the summer exercises generate the most heat. There were riots outside the stadium and athletic protests inside at Mexico City in 1968; murder dominated Munich four years later.

In 1976, entire nations began walking out of the Olympics -- for reasons only indirectly related to sport. The Africans that year in Montreal; the Americans and their friends in 1980; the Soviet bloc nations in 1984.

The winter meets have been less tense, mostly because there are fewer nations competing and the competition itself is less inflammatory. The bottom half of the hemisphere neither knows nor much cares about luge and biathlon.

Also, hockey is the only winter team sport that involves any contact. Athletes don't get slugged in the winter games. Or thrown to a mat. Or off horses.

There is shooting here, but only at targets. The scary stuff involves people in what seem to be spray-on duds flying down mountains, or jumping toward the stars, or sled-riding on ice around hairpin curves. With their tummies pointed up and their heads at the back of the sled.

Still, the winter games have known much controversy. Many Olympic purists, among them former IOC president Avery Brundage, thought sport would be a whole lot better off without them.

Too professional.

This still seems a reasonable enough argument. To lots of us, Olympic figure skating amounts to the final tryout for Ice Capades.

The issue of professionalism is being resolved by the IOC and the various athletic federations, and most effectively in the winter sports. Fact is, business might as well be the sixth Olympic ring.

Banned for commercialism in 1972, Karl Schranz would be welcomed with open mittens here. So long as he remembered to filter all the cash he earned skiing through his federation or a trust fund.

The Schranz-Brundage fuss was the essence of the professionalism issue.

"Trained seals of the merchandisers," Brundage barked at Schranz, who was earning a paltry $40,000 to $50,000 a year at the time.

Countered Schranz: "If Mr. Brundage had been poor, as I was, and as were many other athletes, I wonder if he wouldn't have a different attitude . . .

"If we followed Mr. Brundage's recommendations to their true end, then the Olympics would be a competition only for the very rich. No man of ordinary means could ever afford to excel in his sport."

The neat irony here is Ingemar Stenmark. That wondrous Swede, and Marc Girardelli, were not allowed to compete in the '84 Games at Sarajevo. But Stenmark, who won the slalom and giant slalom in 1980, is back in the good graces of the IOC.

No poorer, and purer, than four years ago, Stenmark has been allowed onto the Olympic slopes once more. Somewhere, Avery must be doing a fine steam. Stenmark's absence in '84 helped American Phil Mahre win the gold medal in the slalom. Four years earlier, the day after finishing second to Stenmark, Mahre was sliding down the hill for an American Express commercial.

One of the last areas of Olympic hypocrisy to be attacked was hockey, and the Canadians did that in Sarajevo in 1984. Such a howl greeted their decision to use goaltender Mario Gosselin and Dan Wood, who had signed National Hockey League contracts but had not played professional game.

Canada is favored to win the hockey gold this time, in part because Andy Moog will be in goal. Now 28, Moog has been part of three Stanley Cup championship teams in his seven seasons with the Edmonton Oilers.

In four years, officials have melted enough to make ice hockey a y'all-come event. Canada would love to have persuaded its favorite stick-swinging son, Wayne Gretzky, to join its team.

Gretzky declined, or the Oilers told him to. Whatever, he will root for the home team.

So, as the Statler Brothers put it, here we are again. There is intramural bickering, most of it involving U.S. speed skaters and bobsledders. But the only complaining by the IOC this week was about a strike by nurses, which got settled late Thursday.

The wave of cheer and pleasant reality among the countries is like the warm winds, known as Chinooks, that often pass through here and make everybody more comfortable.

Seoul? Well, that could prove troublesome, if not sad. But it's a summer storm, and a long way off.