CALGARY, FEB. 20 -- No matter how brilliant the banners, no matter how grand the music, no matter how compelling the matches, these Winter Olympics have assumed a rather melancholy air.
There have been disputes. There have been disappointments. There has been dust. And there has been Dan.
When one looks back years from now and thinks of the XV Winter Olympics, now at their midpoint, the first image remembered will have to be of the man in the bright, skin-tight suit, sitting on the ice, head in hands.
On the day Dan Jansen, the 22-year-old speed skater from West Allis, Wis., lost his sister to cancer, he slipped on the ice and never finished a race he might have won. Four days later, skating faster than anyone who had come before, his skates went out from under him and he fell to the ice again.
"It's very disappointing," Jansen said. "I train for so many years and I don't even finish a race."
It might have been the saddest competitive moment in Olympic history.
Dan Jansen's travails have become a metaphor for the experiences of the U.S. team here and for the Games themselves. Oh, the fans can't get enough of these Olympics, packing the slopes and the arenas for the competition and milling through the city square each night for the glorious medal ceremonies. They bring their video cameras and their kids on their shoulders and their flags. Most are Canadian, but not all.
The public address announcer at the medal ceremony Thursday night told the thousands assembled that a special medal ceremony was going to be held for disabled cross country skiing, which was held the day before. He announced the winner, a blind man from Norway.
When he named the country, an elderly woman's ears perked up.
"Oh, Norway," she said to her companion, in a lilting Canadian voice. "We'll have to stand up straight for that."
Against this backdrop, something unusual is going on. The wind is too strong and too warm. The snow is gone, except in the Rockies. The streets are dirty. Rain clouds were spotted overhead. And too many athletes are falling.
It's not only Jansen. Pirmin Zurbriggen, the world's best skier, tumbled down Nakiska the other day when he nicked a slalom gate. Pam Fletcher, the United States' best hope in the women's downhill, broke her leg in a freak collision with an orange-clad Olympic volunteer on a mountain catwalk. And Peter Oppegard, who teamed with Jill Watson to win the bronze medal in pairs figure skating, slipped when his skate wobbled underneath him during their final competition.
"I either hit a hole in the ice," Oppegard said, "or a sequin."
At these Olympics, there are 1,789 athletes, 1,100 coaches, 4,500 media people, 10,000 volunteers, an estimated 100,000 visitors, as many as 5,000 sequins and about 250,000 pins, almost all of which will change hands at least once during the Olympic fortnight.
Zurbriggen's victory in the downhill was considered a $1 million payday. When silver medalist Peter Mueller was asked what the difference was between first and second place, he replied slyly, "Some bucks."
Mueller, a linguist as well as a racer, then translated those two words into French and German.
Speaking of money, raising prices has become an Olympic sport in Calgary. At a wild Western bar called Longhorn, where the band played Prince's "Purple Rain," there usually is no cover charge. But, during the Olympics, it costs $6 to get in the door.
And, if you want to be let into the restaurant area to visit the bathroom, it'll cost you one of your favorite pins.
If Calgary, Canada's Houston, is one of the most unusual spots to find the Winter Olympics, it also is one of the most accommodating. It's safe to say the city is thrilled. Taking its lead from Los Angeles, the town has hung colorful banners, with lines and circles and dots, from light posts. Residents have decorated their houses with Christmas lights. An entire strip of 16th Avenue NW is illuminated with trees twinkling in tiny white lights. Lights and signs on high-rise apartment balconies spell out words of welcome.
There is a naivete about Calgary, a cow town gone international for 16 days. Even more refreshing is the fact residents don't mind admitting it to visitors.
"This is the biggest event I will ever attend in my life," Diane Hoover said as she sat bundled in her bleacher seat at the blustery opening ceremonies. "The next biggest was my sister's wedding. There were 100 people there."
There were 60,000 at the opening ceremonies. There have been traffic jams in the mountains. But Olympic officials have been most pleasantly surprised by the throngs that gather downtown to wait for the clock tower at the old city hall to chime 7 and begin each evening's medal ceremonies.
The other night, three East German women, led by gold medalist Steffi Walter, were honored for their top three finishes in the women's luge. The Olympic hymn was played. They waved their flowers and examined the medals hanging around their neck. Then the stately yet haunting East German national anthem was played and three identical flags were hoisted into the night sky.
A man lifted his little son onto his shoulders, then handed him the family video camera. The father couldn't see a thing. The kid had one of the best views in the house. Dad showed Junior the button to push, and the child recorded the scene for posterity.
As they walked away, the child said, "Who were they?"
Everything and everyone is a photo opportunity waiting to happen. Fletcher held an impromptu news conference on a bleacher at Nakiska, with her fractured leg propped up. Reporters surrounded her and photographers gathered on another side, nearest the fiberglas cast.
When Fletcher turned her face toward the cameras, the air filled with the sound of Nikons clicking. When she turned to look at most of the reporters, the clicking stopped.
Fletcher thought this was funny. She turned her head away, then quickly, without reason, swung her head back toward the cameras.
It was Fletcher's way to forget for a moment her disappointment, to forget that she was out of the only Olympics she would ever try to participate in. Because of a crash on a secluded mountain trail, she became another who came here as an Olympic hopeful, and now is an Olympic disappointment.
Staff writer Angus Phillips contributed to this report.