The gold medal winner had lipstick on both cheeks. One singer, Silge, had sat on his left. The other singer, Rita Erickson, had sat on his right. They are both Norwegian Top 40 stars, and they had sung a song just for him, a traditional Norwegian tune that involved both whistling and yodeling. The singing was also accompanied by some tousling of his red hair, and at the end there had been the kisses.
Bjørn Dæhlie was not an unhappy man.
"Oh, my," he said in Norwegian.
Or something like that.
He was at the tag end of the best day of his life. The gold medal, for the 10-kilometer cross-country ski race, hung from his neck and bounced against his plaid flannel shirt. Across the couch from him sat Halvard Flatland, the Halvard Flatland, the most famous talk-show host in Norway. Behind the camera pointed at both of them sat, well, their entire country.
The show is called Vindu Mot Lillehammer (Window on Lillehammer), and from eight to 11 every night during these 1994 Olympic Games, it has killed all competition. Part interviews, part film clips, part song and dance, Vindu Mot Lillehammer is a nightly celebration of Norway's latest great moments. One five-minute segment is even broadcast in 3-D, and the popularity of the show is indicated by the fact that its producers expected more than a million pairs of 3-D glasses to be sold, with the proceeds being donated to charity.
The highlight of the show is a long interview in front of a live audience with a Norwegian athlete, preferably a gold medal winner from the day's competition. Amazingly, there was a new winner available on seven of the first nine nights of the Games. Through Sunday, the host country of a scant 4½ million people had amassed eight gold medals, five silver and two bronze, placing it first in golds and tied for first, with Russia, in total medals. The language of success in these Winter Olympics has a 29-letter alphabet and, to the American ear, tongue-twisting pronunciation.
"This day is the best," Dæhlie said last Thursday night in Norwegian to Halvard Flatland and the studio audience and the country. "In 1992 in Albertville, I won three gold medals and one silver, but there were only 10,000, maybe 15,000 people along the course. To win here? Before all of these people? My country? I was hoping to do this but afraid that I would not."
The best day of his life. The lipstick marks were exclamation points to a smile that crossed all of Norway.