CALGARY -- When Katarina Witt was 5 years old, East German officials determined that her body type and genetic background made her a suitable subject for intensive training in figure skating.

The long-range aim, even way back then, was to someday send her to the Winter Olympics, where she might bring glory to her native land with a medal.

As she progressed, the state's commitment to Witt never wavered, and in 1984 she paid it all back when she won the gold medal in Sarajevo. Now she's favored to do it here again.

When Eric Flaim was about 10 and small for his age, he got tired of being kicked around in peewee hockey in Massachusetts and decided to give speed skating a try. He turned out to be good at it, so he got his parents to drive him to Lake Placid, N.Y., a 300-mile haul, where he actually got to skate on an Olympic speed skating oval.

A few years later, Flaim decided on his own to give the sport a serious try. He found a West Allis, Wis., family willing to take him in, and he left home to pursue his destiny where the U.S. team trains.

This week, at 20, he won a silver medal in the 1,500-meter speed skating event.

And you wonder why East Germany has six gold medals and the United States two?

If this Winter Olympics is proving anything, it's that the technological mastery of winter athletics enjoyed by the Eastern bloc countries pays off every four years in precious metal.

"The role of science is not so big, maybe 5 percent of performance," said Dr. Vladimir Zatsiorsky, director of research for the Soviet All-Union Ministry of Physical Culture. "But that 5 percent is of very high importance. We feel our work is very important for our sportsmen to do their best."

In sport after winter sport, Eastern bloc athletes are using better equipment and training more efficiently and thoroughly. In many instances, Witt's for example, they also might have started out better suited to their discipline than their Western counterparts.

Eastern bloc nations for years have been testing athletes for attributes important to a specific sport, so they don't waste time training potential world class ski jumpers to be hockey goalies.

But that technology requires a data base, an idea of what physiological and genetic traits make up a good ski jumper, for example.

It mostly boils down to muscle fibers, reflexes, ability of the blood to absorb oxygen, body type, psychological profile and a host of other variables, which the Eastern bloc countries have been winnowing.

There is hope on this front for the Americans, who for the first time are gathering, storing and analyzing hard, scientific data about what it takes to be successful in individual Winter Olympic sports.

Some information is being gathered here under a $700,000 program of the International Olympic Committee, which has a team of 70 international scientists studying the Games.

The researchers are using speed cinematography to profile skiers and skaters; they've installed pressure plates at the end of ski jump runs to measure force at the takeoff point and they have lined the walls of the bobsled and luge runs with photo cells to take readings all along the course.

The data will be available to all countries, and the United States has in place a computerized system to store and analyze it.

Dr. Charles Dillman's U.S. Olympic sports science project, with a budget of $2 million this year, is an early step in trying to establish a nationwide computer network of sports data available to Olympic-sport coaches across the land.

It's a long way from complete, Dillman said, and there are huge obstacles, most notably the absence of qualified, science-minded coaches to use it. But it's a start.

Long-range, Dillman hopes to see a national computer network to advise coaches and athletes in the Olympic disciplines in three areas:

Physical conditioning, including strength, nutrition and physical attributes needed for excellence in a certain sport.

Biomechanics, which boils down to performing more efficiently and effectively.

Psychology, and how mental state and capacity affect performance.

If this is starting to sound like a Brave New World, in which the ultimate goal is genetically engineered, bionic superstars, Dillman said not to worry.

The goal, he said, is only to help athletes realize their potential. "If you've ever trained for an elite sport," he said, "then you'd know an athlete wants to know more about himself so he can do better with what he has."

To that end, science and industry are working with the USOC on a number of winter sports-related projects. For example:

Nordic skiing: Trying to design better roller skis for summer training, lighter and stiffer poles for pushing and skis better adapted to the skating style of cross country skiing.

Hockey: The emphasis is on physical conditioning, to determine scientifically the effects of fatigue late in a game, and how to avoid it. Energy also is being applied to designing better equipment.

Ski jumping: Competitors are being strung in harnesses and suspended in wind tunnels in a search for better flying positions and jumping suits. Manufacturers are working to improve skis and waxes.

Figure skating: Research is under way to analyze the unique physical needs of figure skaters, whose heart rates generally shoot to the maximum within seconds of starting a routine and stay there. Also, studies show that skaters' landing jumps put 10 to 15 times normal stress on their feet. Improvements in boot and blade design, essentially unchanged in 50 years, are considered important to preventing injuries.

Bobsled and luge: Aerodynamic sled design is the great quest, and nations are very secretive about advances. The U.S. team, profiting from donated input by three private engineering firms, came up with an innovative four-man bobsled this year, but the athletes didn't like it. "Basically, we had $250,000 {worth of research} that was flushed down the toilet," said brakeman James Herberich.

Dillman said the resistance of athletes to change is a continuing problem.

But one thing seems clear: With or without the athletes' support, science and technology are here to stay in Olympic sports.

Somewhere in the stands, sobersided scientists are watching, timing and measuring. It's data they are after. Raw, cold data.