Speedskater Bonnie Blair, America's heroine in the last Winter Olympics, was asleep in her hotel room in Davos, Switzerland, last month when the phone rang.
"It's started," the voice on the other end of the line said.
"What's started?" Blair asked.
"The war," Blair's friend said.
Four days later, Blair and her U.S. speedskating teammates left Europe in the middle of the night to begin the long trip home.
"We were never once threatened or scared for our safety," Blair said the other day from Calgary, preparing to return to Europe for the World Sprint Speedskating Championships in Inzell, Germany, next week. "We were just stuck with no information and couldn't communicate well to everyone back home, so we got together and voted and decided to come back."
With a year to go before the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, Blair's story is both the reality and the fear of every prospective Olympian in this time of war. This is the final winter of preparation for these athletes, a time when disruptions of schedule and travel are least tolerable.
Yet, because of their fame and their far-flung itineraries, they become vulnerable to potential terrorist threats and attacks, so they are among the first civilians who must be put on alert when a war erupts.
"This is an uprooting kind of thing: Are we going to go or aren't we?" Blair said. "There are a lot of emotions at a time like this. From strictly a sports standpoint, these are difficult circumstances to be in and at the same time train and perform at your best."
What an odd situation for the winter sports athletes of the world. The U.S. speedskaters have been meshing security concerns with time zones and split times. Some are worried their performances will be hurt.
The U.S. ski team was in Europe and came home, en masse, when the Persian Gulf War broke out. After assessing the situation from the United States, the skiers went back.
For those in the Olympic community with a short-range view, there is war and little else. Olympic officials say it's way too early to discuss its impact on the XVI Winter Games, traditionally a quaint event in an Alpine village that has remained unbothered by the outside world.
But for those who dare to look ahead, there is the hope of peace and the knowledge that 52 weeks from today, the men's downhill will be going on, the opening ceremonies already will have taken place and the Olympics will have returned for the first time in 24 years to the majestic French Alps.
In ancient times, wars were suspended during the Olympics. Since the birth of the modern Games in 1896, however, it has been the other way around. The 1916 Summer Games were canceled because of World War I. The Winter Olympics, which began in 1924, were twice canceled during World War II -- in 1940 and 1944. (The Summer Games those years were called off too.)
It is too soon to talk of contingency plans for the 1992 Winter Games because, simply, it is too soon to know when the war will end, Olympic officials said.
"Not at this point, no," said Richard Pound, an International Olympic Committee vice president from Montreal. "We all hope it ends by the Olympics, of course. Everyone's concerned if it drags on and on and on, or if there's an unsatisfactory post-hostility resolution that doesn't reduce the risk of terrorism. But right now, it's too soon for any of us to do anything."
The IOC has canceled a half-dozen or so conferences and meetings it had scheduled, said U.S. Olympic Committee Executive Director Harvey Schiller. "Other than that, competitions are going on, we're sending athletes to them and we're very aware of the situation in the world right now."
The irony for U.S. Olympic officials and athletes is that this heightened sense of safety isn't new. For several years, American athletes have been warned not to wear U.S.A. jackets or carry national team bags in airports.
"There's always a concern about the security of teams traveling internationally," said USOC President Robert Helmick. "When a war is going on, we increase our concern, but there are ways to travel. When we went to Seoul, we said our teams needed to travel smart. Now they need to travel smarter."
"You keep the U.S.A. jackets packed," Blair said. "You don't want anyone to know of your travel arrangements. You keep everything under wraps. You try not to look too American."
A perfect example: When asked what day she was leaving for the world championships, she said apologetically, "Let's just say soon."
One hundred U.S. athletes will leave next month to travel to the World University Winter Games in Japan, Schiller said. They will receive plain parkas and U.S.A. patches. The patches will not be sewn on the coats.
"They can pin them on when they get there," Schiller said.
That team also will not fly over as a unit, but will travel in smaller groups to try to avoid attention, Schiller said.
"One can never make a mistake being overcautious, especially with young people involved," Helmick said.
If the war is over and the Winter Games go on as planned, the United States team will have much to prove. In Calgary, the Americans won just six medals, their worst performance since 1964. Most predict better things in 1992.
The speedskaters, led by Blair, who won a gold and bronze medal in 1988, probably will win more medals than any other U.S. team, perhaps as many as five.
U.S. figure skaters again will be among the best in the world. Reigning world champion Jill Trenary is injured, but Kristi Yamaguchi is the stronger free skater and likely will be America's top hope by next year. Japan's diminutive Midori Ito is the favorite.
And an American -- either Christopher Bowman or Todd Eldredge -- should win a medal in the men's competition.
The hockey and bobsled teams could each produce a medal, with renewed interest in the latter because of the accomplishments of Edwin Moses, and, to a lesser degree, Willie Gault and Herschel Walker.
A new full-medal sport, freestyle mogul skiing, should give the United States a great opportunity for a gold medal. Donna Weinbrecht, the leader in the World Cup standings, probably will be the favorite in Albertville. Other U.S. medals in skiing, either Alpine or Nordic, would be considered a pleasant surprise.
Once in every Olympics, a hero or heroine emerges from the host nation's team to win a medal or, at the least, steal its heart. French skier Jean-Claude Killy, the co-chairman of the Albertville Games, did this in 1968 when he won three gold medals in Grenoble.
Austrian skier Franz Klammer won the gold medal with a breathtaking downhill run in Innsbruck in 1976. The U.S. hockey team won its stunning gold medal in Lake Placid, N.Y., in 1980. Canadian figure skater Elizabeth Manley performed a spectacular long program to capture the silver medal behind East Germany's Katarina Witt in Calgary in 1988.
Who will be carried on the shoulders of countrymen and women in Albertville? Most likely a figure skater, or two or three. The controversial and ingenious French dance pair of Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay were eighth in Calgary, but many thought they should have won a medal. The judges probably won't risk the wrath of the locals this time.
And they probably will find a place on the medal stand for Surya Bonaly, the 17-year-old from the outskirts of Paris who recently won the European championships.