CALGARY -- Many of you may remember last summer when blind Washingtonian Jim Dickson tried to sail across the Atlantic Ocean, but wound up being helped into Bermuda after a storm.
Dickson was brave and plucky and a picture of determination, but he overlooked one small thing: He never bothered to learn ocean sailing.
One of his mentors, world-class singlehanded sailor Francis Stokes, said afterward that an awful lot of "wishful thinking" went into planning Dickson's effort.
So it appears here in the prairie, where Olympic organizers overlooked a few, small salient facts when they scheduled the Winter Games for Calgary: like no snow, unpredictable warm spells, too much wind, no mountains and no tradition of winter sports.
So it happens that ski jumping activities here consist of a bunch of guys in shiny suits riding an elevator to the top of a scaffold every day, and sitting around in a heated room waiting for the wind to stop howling, which it never does.
All around are the sights of winter on the prairie: barren, brown flatlands, dormant grain fields, Charolais cattle grazing, buses rolling down the Trans-Canada highway.
Talk about your color and pageantry: This weekend, bobsledding events were postponed because of a sandstorm; biathletes spent an exciting day wading through 20 kilometers of melting, man-made snow as temperatures hit the mid-50s at Canmore Nordic Center. Did someone say Nordic?
If you spend enough time in the outdoors, you come to realize that people congregate for sports in places conducive to the activity in question. This is a fancy way of saying, as country singer- songwriter Roger Miller put it, "You can't roller skate in a buffalo herd."
This is cattle country, which is why the Stampede rodeo attracts a million visitors every summer.
But with its winter winds, wildly fluctuating weather, shortage of snow and general outdoor winter inhospitality, Calgary has only one strong, winter sports tradition -- hockey, played indoors.
So why did the International Olympic Committee schedule the Winter Games here?
The simple answer is greed. Calgary had no nearby mountains or speed skating oval or luge or bobsled track, no permafrost outdoor ice and no place to put a reasonable ski jumping facility.
But it sat in a time zone that spelled M-O-N-E-Y for the TV Olympics, with same-day, prime-time capability for the wealthy U.S. market and excellent communications facilities already in place.
So Olympic organizers overlooked natural shortcomings, tried to finesse others technologically with fake snow and refrigerated luge and speed skating runs, and employed a little wishful thinking. Who knew? Maybe they'd get lucky and the weather would be right.
It wasn't, and it will be a long time before they hold an international ski jumping competition here again. No one is even likely to come and practice ski jumping here in the future, if it means waiting around a week or two to get in a day's workout. A ski jump official here said the last week was "torture on the athletes."
Peter Mueller, the Swiss downhill veteran, says much the same of Nakiska, the mountain Olympic organizers carved out of wild Mount Allan in the foothills of the Rockies, augmenting it with millions of dollars of snowmaking equipment. Mueller says Nakiska's weather is simply too unpredictable to schedule fair international competition there.
It's a pity that much of Calgary's hard work and good will in putting together these Games is falling prey to the vagaries of nature, but it's no surprise. The Winter Olympics always has been vulnerable to weather, like the four-day blizzard at Sarajevo.
But selecting Calgary, where marine, mountain and Arctic weather cells converge with wildly unpredictable results, was just asking for trouble. Organizers here insist the last week's weather was unusual, but the weather bureau says it's always windy here in February.
Somehow, little of this dilemma seems to be getting across to TV viewers, who hear that the odd event is postponed, but always are switched over instantly to something else that appears to be running with untroubled, wintry vivacity.
The truth is, to those of us who are here, the winter in these winter sports extends little beyond the camera's range. You look beyond the luge run or the fake-snow cross country course and see bare, dry, dusty earth under barren mountaintops. Something clearly is missing.
But don't expect ABC to tell you that. They know well the perils of the great American winter sport, TV-watching, and how easy it is to switch that dial.