CALGARY -- Martha Hill and Diana Golden of the U.S. Olympic team are quite similar. Both graduated from Dartmouth College, Hill majoring in anthropology and Golden in English literature. Both ski down mountains at speeds that would get you flagged by cops if you were in a car.

And both also lost a leg above the knee to bone cancer as teen-agers.

Within the mostly glum U.S. entourage here, Hill and Golden are easy to spot. They, like the rest of the Disabled Ski Team, are the ones who are smiling. You know, just as if they were at the Winter Olympics, having a great time, meeting friends, partying, practicing and getting ready for their competition.

These Games have been long on lawsuits and backstabbing, cancellations and disappointments for some potential champions.

If you want to hear cheating charges or watch the marketing of bizarre competitors like the Jamaican bobsled team (T-shirts just $27.50), then Calgary's the place to be.

However, if you just want to find people who are delighted to be here and who think that marching in the opening ceremonies was a thrill, you might want to meet Hill, Golden and Co.

Their only complaint about these 16 days of a lifetime are that they wish somebody would let them ski down a hill steep enough that one of them might fall and break his or her good leg. That's what they call a disabled skiing joke.

"They've got us on a beginner's hill where we might go 25 or 30 mph," says Hill. "People are going to say, 'God, are they slow.' The intention is good. We're an exhibition {non-medal} sport and they want us in town, where the crowds and exposure are much greater than at Nakiska {60 miles away}."

Still, like many disabled elite athletes, the blind and one-legged skiers here wish their performances were not artificially capped by protective officials.

"Another reason we're not on the mountain," said Hill, 27, "is because they want everybody who starts to finish. You know, 'Isn't that nice.' We're not worried about crashing because that's part of ski racing.

"We should be allowed the dignity to crash and burn. We should be allowed to get our butts whipped. Paul DiBello {a top U.S. disabled skier} said, 'Just because we're disabled doesn't mean we can't be disappointed.'

"I've crashed at 55 mph. I walked away from that," said Hill. "It only made me want to try that much harder. I'm proud that I've gotten over my fear of the downhill. We know we're taking risks."

Perhaps no sight here is more surprising or uplifting than a skier like David Jamison, a polio victim at age 2 and a 10-time national ski champion, sailing down Mount Allan at 75 mph in a practice run.

"These skiers are an inspiration to all our other athletes," said Craig Ward, a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic ski team. "The disabled skiers call the rest of us 'the severely able-bodied.' "

The disabled skiers really are atypical of Olympic athletes in one sense. Rather than talk about themselves, they want to make sure you know about all their disabled friends who aren't here.

"We get the publicity, and we were chosen to be here, because our handicap -- one leg above the knee -- is so visible. But there are {10} categories of disabled skiers, like double amputees below the knee with prosthesis. To look at them, they just look like great normal skiers," said Golden, who skis with two regular poles rather than poles fitted with mini-skis as the other competitors here are using. She is in first place and Hill is third after the first round of the slalom competition.

A vivacious newlywed bombing downhill on one leg and two poles is novel, especially when she's so good she's been a forerunner for World Cup races and does most of her competing in regular U.S. women's races.

"Compared to the top 100 women on the East Coast, I'd be far back in the pack," said Golden. But in the pack. That's the point. That's why she's won the U.S. Skiing Association's Beck Award, given in the past to Olympians like Bill Johnson, Tamara McKinney and Phil Mahre.

"I can't step from turn to turn," Golden said. "I don't have the time for recovery, for oxygen to come back into the leg. But I'm working to close the gap."

Heidi Voelker of the U.S. team said, "Diana Golden is unbelievable. She skis as well as any of us. All I can say is that she must have worked really hard because that one leg has to be stronger than any of ours."

These skiers are here as athletes, but they also agree that they have a message -- both for the handicapped, about stretching their limits, and for the able, about stretching their perceptions.

"When I lost my leg at 17, I didn't feel like I'd changed, but everybody treated me differently. They started to pamper me," said Hill. "In conversation, it's like you've turned to vapor. People talk to whoever is with you, not you . . .

"In high school, before I got cancer, I took history from a teacher with a great reputation. He came for the first class on crutches. He'd had polio. I thought, 'How's he going to teach?' He was so good, his crutches never crossed my mind again.

"But I also had a school friend who became disabled. He handled it poorly. He turned people away without knowing it. I learned from him that the only way I'm going to make it is to force people to be comfortable around me."

For some, skiing works at both ends of this problem: it helps the confidence of the disabled and shatters the biases of others.

"One of the great losses for a person on crutches or in a wheelchair is a sense of speed, of being able to take physical risks," said Hill. "In skiing, we can let gravity move us. We see people who can barely walk, even some paraplegics, who can fly down a hill. They find out that they can be as good or better skiers than other people."

Even becoming an exhibition sport in the Olympics had been a long trip for disabled skiing. Most countries did not allow their disabled athletes to march in the opening ceremonies here, although the United States and a few others did.

"In our country, it's easier to demand. We've pushed our way in the door. And now they {Olympic officials} like it," said Jamison. "Marching in the ceremonies was awesome. In '84, there was some tension {with teammates}. They didn't really know why we were there or what we could do. Not this time. Now we're really part of the team."

"I didn't have any expectations coming here," said Golden. "Maybe that's why it's been so wonderful. It's the most emotional athletic event of my life."