PARIS -- The countdown has begun: One year from now, Les Jeux d'Hiver, the Winter Olympics, will be in full swing in Albertville, in the Savoy Alps in southeastern France.
But in the offices of the Comite d'Organisation des Jeux Olympiques, known throughout France more simply as COJO, another kind of counting is going on. A $460 million budget for the Winter Olympics already has become a $780 million budget, a figure that could climb further as work continues on a troublesome bobsled and luge run as well as ski jump platforms.
There is more. The tottering U.S. dollar worries COJO officials, whose $243 million contract with CBS for American broadcast rights is worth less the lower the dollar dips.
And there is the specter of CBS reducing its payment should U.S. teams fail to enter the Games. That is a remote but plausible possibility considering the withdrawal of Americans from some ski competitions in Europe immediately after the start of the Gulf War and continuing concern among athletes about international travel.
Such worries were pushed as far away as possible this weekend as Jean-Claude Killy, hero of the 1968 Grenoble Olympics and co-chairman of COJO, smiled through interviews and said all was on schedule for the Games, set for Feb. 8-23, 1992.
"The Olympic Games must still take place even if the war continues," Killy said at a news conference in Val d'Isere.
But Killy said organizers have taken out insurance with Lloyds of London to guard against losses in case U.S. athletes pull out. And in Lausanne, Switzerland, the president of the International Olympic Committee admitted that concern is real.
"There is a fight for peace," said Juan Antonio Samaranch as the IOC warily issued invitations Friday to 165 nations. "The Olympic movement has to play its role in that fight."
There were no such concerns when Albertville was awarded the Games in 1986, the third French city to host the Winter Games. Chamonix inaugurated the Winter Olympics in 1924 before Grenoble held them in '68.
When Albertville won the Games, Parisians lamented the fact they would have to settle for the Winter Olympics while the Summer Games -- which Paris coveted -- went to Barcelona. The greatest concerns were the remote and spread-out nature of the venues. The 11 competition sites are scattered over 640 square miles and connected mostly by mountain roads.
The French have attempted to head off problems: A highway bypass system is due to open this month and two stretches of highway from Albertville into the nearby valleys are slated to be ready by fall. That should help alleviate problems such as those encountered shortly before the Games were given to Albertville, when vacationers traveling to and from Val d'Isere encountered four-hour traffic jams on the 50 miles of winding mountain roads leading to Albertville.
Other help has come in the form of high-speed train service, via the train a grande vitesse (TGV; literally, train of great quickness), from Paris.
The villages of the Savoy and the 10,000-foot mountains of the Alps that surround them are places of great natural beauty and splendor. But Albertville itself is situated at just 1,130 feet and is not a well-known sports center.
Only the figure skating and speed skating competitions will be in Albertville, in a rink due to open Feb. 16. The skiing sites in Val d'Isere, Tignes, Courchevel and Meribel are all as much as a 90-minute drive away.
The men's downhill course at Val d'Isere was to have opened Friday, but a snowstorm forced cancellation. The course, cut into the Bellevarde mountain, was designed by Bernhard Russi, a downhill Olympic gold medalist in 1972. It is not quite 1.8 miles long, with a drop of 3,192 feet, but has been criticized by some skiers for being too curving and without enough speed patches.
The women's downhill at Meribel has not gone uncriticized either. Skiers last month suggested it was too difficult before alterations were made.
COJO should hope all its venues are so troublefree. The bobsled and luge run plus the ski jump facility are far over budget with work continuing.
The problem with the mile-long bob and luge run is rooted in its ammonia-induced freezing system. Costs for the run reportedly quadrupled to $48 million when engineers discovered the site at La Plagne was vulnerable to landslides and earth shifts, which could release the poisonous ammonia gas. No safety certificate has yet been issued, but a trial was held this week and another is planned near the end of this month.
"Everything necessary to make the track safe has or will be done," Killy told Reuter. "It has to be remembered we could not have got the Games if we had not included bobsleigh and luge."
Not everyone is sure it is worth it. Colette Paviet-Salomon, the mayor of La Plagne, told Agence France-Presse the track is too extravagant. "It's magnificent, like the Eiffel Tower," Paviet-Salomon said, "but I don't know what we shall do with it."
At Courchevel, site of the ski jumping, there have been problems with the fastenings of the platforms because of underground springs that threaten the stability of the ground. Resultant work has increased original estimates 40 percent, according to reports.
But there is time enough to correct all that and, this weekend, France is tuned in to the positive aspects. One cannot turn the television dial without finding Killy hyping Albertville, and journals are full of the potential glory and grandeur.
The headline in the sports newspaper L'Equipe read: "Le Challenge Olympique." And it is formidable indeed.