CALGARY, FEB. 29 -- The head of the International Olympic Committee today pronounced the XV Winter Games "the best ever," and warned Albertville, France, site of the 1992 Games, that Calgary will be a hard act to follow.
In a wide-ranging retrospective this morning after the Olympic flame was extinguished Sunday night, President Juan Antonio Samaranch and other IOC officials said that by overcoming serious weather problems, Calgary may have led the way to a new wave of technologically enhanced Games.
Samaranch said the extensive snowmaking and refrigeration systems, plus the indoor speed skating oval, saved the day when a warm, two-week Chinook blew in and threatened to disrupt the Games.
And he indicated the combination of a city with modern, indoor facilities for ice events, plus weatherproof mountains not too distant for skiing, seems to answer the dilemma of the modern Olympics: providing adequate outdoor venues in the wild while having communications and housing for 4,000 or more athletes, media and officials.
The experience here should help in site selections, Samaranch and IOC Treasurer Marc Hodler said.
One thing they will demand is better weather data. "I have told the Olympic committees and the international federations, the reports must be more complete and precise than they were here," said Samaranch.
Rosy weather predictions by Calgary organizers did not dovetail with the sandstorm that postponed bobsledding one day or with the warm, howling winds that caused days of delays for skiing and ski jumping events.
Said IOC member Dick Pound of Canada, "Some of the greatest fiction ever written is in Olympic bid books."
But as workers began to disassemble the Olympic apparatus, the mood today was far more congratulatory than accusatory.
All around this prairie city of 640,000, Calgarians asked departing guests, "How did we do?" and asked each other, "Do you think they liked us?" If this Olympics did anything for Canada besides raise money, it was to introduce to the world the guileless good nature of Western Canadians.
For the athletes, journalists and spectators who spent 16 days hustling from venue to distant venue, and for millions more who watched on television, there were plenty of memories of athletic excellence, as well.
The day she arrived here, East German figure skating gold medalist Katarina Witt was asked a seemingly broad and innocuous question: How did she feel about human rights and politics?
Witt drew a breath and thought a moment, flashed her trademark smile and said her nation and its system gave her a right she treasured: to be as good as she possibly could.
Setting aside the political implications, that could stand as a credo for these Games. Because in event after event, it was clear that only those who carried their skills to the ultimate level prevailed.
When Witt went head to head against American Debi Thomas, it was a clash of titanic wills. Witt proved stronger, with the whole world watching.
Even the best crumbled under the pressure of this quadrennial, international test. Peerless Swiss skier Pirmin Zurbriggen hooked a gate in his final run in the combined downhill event and blew a gold medal; Karin Enke-Kania, touted to win two golds and five medals in speed skating for East Germany, fell to a withering show by Yvonne van Gennip of the Netherlands. The squabbling Swiss women skiers, Maria Walliser and Michela Figini, were outshone by hard-charging teammate Vreni Schneider; American Josh Thompson, touted as the first U.S. biathlon medal hope, wilted under a barrage of excellence from East Germany and the Soviets.
Tiny Bonnie Blair skated her big heart out to win gold by two-hundredths of a second, the payoff for four years of hard, anonymous drudgery.
Dan Jansen broke a nation's heart when he lost a sister and a dream in one dreadful day.
Canadian Elizabeth Manley brought a nation out of its chairs to cheer her remarkable skating. Italian skier Alberto Tomba slashed down Mount Allan like a one-man wrecking crew, slalom gates flying in his wake as he roared to two gold medals.
Given all that drama, should there be change?
Not much, said Samaranch and his colleagues.
Samaranch said he won't support adding more salable winter sports for the sake of increased television revenues. No basketball, no volleyball.
"The Games of the Winter Olympics must be played on ice or snow," said Samaranch with finality. "Do they play basketball on ice?"
Nor is there any rush to add new ice and snow sports. Hodler said freestyle skiing was well received as a demonstration sport here, but he has serious concerns about safety.
Will the Olympics ever again be in scenic, winter paradises like Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Kitzbuhel or St. Moritz? Not likely.
"You need at least three indoor stadiums for ice sports," Hodler said, including one that houses 16,000 or more spectators. "We believe the Winter Olympics must go into a region with such an arena, and with facilities for snow sports somewhere in the neighborhood."
Samaranch said Albertville, with a population of about 25,000, will have a hard time "fulfilling what Calgary has done," because even with excellent natural facilities for skiing nearby, it lacks sophisticated ice arenas.
One thing we won't see anytime soon is a return to Calgary. "The Games belong to the world," said Samaranch, "and all cities have the right to organize a bid."
And these Games belong to history.
On to Seoul.