MOUNT ALLAN, ALBERTA, FEB. 14 -- The Olympic downhillers couldn't make it to the bottom of the mountain because of 98 mph winds whipping Nakiska's starting area, but a few intrepid souls entertained the crowds along the run anyway.

Before the announcement that the racing was postponed, crowds jockeyed for position along the course. Some were in makeshift grandstands, others stood and still others sprawled on the snow soaking up the sun.

The fans had come prepared. Many had packed lunches of sandwiches and wine coolers.

The ski lifts were running constantly and, with the ability to transport 2,600 riders an hour, they carried an army skyward.

As the crowds waited for the race, even the sight of an official testing the course brought cheers. Once the race was called off, spectators who had brought their own skis took to the course. Some skied, some did belly-flops in the snow and some tobogganed pell-mell down the mountain on garbage bags. All were crowd pleasers.

One ski official tripped en route down the mountain and went head over heels about 50 feet down the slope. " "I give you a 10," said a spectator bowled over in the spill.

It was a breathtaking 10-minute ride up the mountain. It took 1 1/2 hours getting down -- not as pretty but arguably a lot more fun. No Messiah

Italian slalom skier Alberto Tomba, 21, denies he recently called himself the new "messiah" of skiing.

He has won seven of 15 World Cup races he entered this year to trail Switzerland's Pirmin Zurbriggen by six points and enrapture Italians. He was widely quoted just before the Olympics as giving himself that title. But at a news conference with his Italian teammates he said it was untrue and made him uncomfortable . . .

Lyle Nelson, the U.S. team's flagbearer in the opening ceremonies Saturday, is one of the more apolitical athletes here. Over 14 years and three previous Olympics in the biathlon, he has come to know and like many of the Soviet athletes who dominate the sport.