CALGARY -- Ah, France. The name itself is magical, sparking daydreams of fine wine, beautiful beaches and an enticing joie de vivre. For an all too brief while, tourists are drawn out of their humdrum lives for a taste of continental flavor.
But there is a seamier side that the travel brochures never show. It is obscured by shadows cast by attractions such as the Alps and the Eiffel Tower. It is a scar on the face of a lovely land.
It is hockey.
The Soviets, Czechoslovaks, Swedes and others came to Calgary with their sticks, pucks and legitimate hopes for an Olympic medal. The French came without illusions.
"If we can win one game we can be very happy," said Coach Kjell Larsson, a Swede who communicates with his team in English because he doesn't speak French.
Twelve hockey teams are entered in the Winter Games. France is seeded 12th and barely gained that spot. It finished fourth in the B pool at the World Championships last April, then had to beat Japan, the C pool winner, in a two-game playoff.
For the first time, France qualified for the Olympic hockey competition. Its teams at Chamonix in 1924, which lost to the United States, 22-0, and Grenoble in 1968 only played because it was the host country.
This time the French earned their berth.
"The main thing that people have to know is that France qualified for the Olympics," Paulin Bordeleau, one of eight Canadian natives on the team, said proudly. "We're 12th in the world, but we're not 14th or 15th. We're 12th."
Their reward was to play their first game Sweden, the top seed. They were buried, 13-2. It was little better in their second game against Finland, a 10-1 thumping.
Before the Sweeden game, Larsson was asked if his team has a chance to win. "No," he said, without hesitation.
Though whatever luck the French have had in hockey has been bad, there is hope. Defenseman Francois Ouimet, another Canadian import, thinks France's mere presence in the Olympics will encourage youngsters to work harder at the game.
With the 1992 Winter Olympics scheduled for Albertville, France, there is added incentive to upgrade the quality of the country's program.
The French Ice Hockey Federation has grumbled about the many Canadians on the Olympic squad, but "we wouldn't have qualified for the Olympics" without them, Ouimet said.
"There are so very many things to do," said Larsson, the assistant coach of the third-place 1984 Swedish Olympic team. "We have many hockey rinks, but the youth hockey programs are not comparable to Canada or Sweden."
Philippe Bozon is a sign that France has skillful native players. Born in Chamonix, he has been skating since he was 5. Now 21, he approached the Olympics with anticipation and trepidation.
"If we want to progress and be at the best level, we have to play the best," the right wing said.
Any Olympic hockey success the French have won't come for at least another four years and probably more. Bordeleau, who played for Vancouver in the NHL and Quebec in the defunct World Hockey Association, has been playing in France for seven years.
"There's been a lot of improvement," he said. "People here don't realize how bad it was five or six years ago."
"If we're 11th when we go home," Larsson said, "we will have shown progress."