Even the unfinished and unvarnished elements of the Olympic complex are impressive. The Olympic Village is a vast development that has risen on a sweeping white plain outside Sapporo, a full community for Olympians that will have 23 five-story and two 11-story buildings. It will surely look like the Lefrak City of northern Asia. A $120.5 million subway system, with gleaming bulletlike aluminum trains, is also being built between downtown Sapporo and the Olympic Village about two miles away.
It must be said that even though Sapporo has all its civic ambition fluttering high for the Olympic project, not everyone is completely charmed by it all. Downtown Sapporo has been strangling in construction barricades and Hokkaido hard hats for months, making bad tempers and bad traffic somewhat routine. Also, a committee sworn to preserve the cherry trees of Japan has campaigned against the building of a boiler plant in the Olympic Village on grounds that its fumes could pollute and endanger the rare cherry trees on nearby Mount Sakurayama. One resident of the Makomanai district, where the Olympic Village subway rises from the ground, told a reporter, "Mount Sakurayama can no longer be viewed from my house. Birds no longer visit my garden. My TV images have begun to flicker. Isn't this a kind of environmental disruption?"
Well, whether the '72 Winter Olympics become an environmental disruption or another Japanese national triumph, along the lines of the 1964 Summer Olympics and Expo '70, remains to be seen, but last week's test-pattern competition went smoothly enough. Perhaps too smoothly. The Sapporo committee could well have used a good Siberian blizzard to test its ability to cope with an emergency. Almost no spectators attended some of the more remote events, and except for one splendid, angry traffic tangle just before the opening ceremonies—when cars were stopped for miles around to allow the crown prince's limousine a clear route—the maddening jams that have become routine for Olympics did not occur.
The competition last week was by no means of Olympic caliber, either—largely because World Cup Alpine races and world championships for other events were being held at about the same time in Europe. However, a few top-class athletes turned up to win the "inexpensive gold medal" that the Sapporo committee had modestly promised. The Russians' 1970 world champion cross-country contestants—men, women and relays—dominated their events. Franz Keller of West Germany, the 1968 Olympic combined Nordic events champion, won easily. Perhaps the best all-round field of entries came in ski jumping. There was Czechoslovakia's Jiri Raska, the 1968 Olympic champion at 70 meters, along with Russia's Vladimir Belousov, the '68 champion at 90 meters, and Russia's Gari Napalkov, the 1970 world championship winner in both events, as well as Norway's Ingolf Mork and Japan's Yukio Kasaya, who collected a silver medal in the 70-meter event last year.
For the Japanese, the rising sun climbed highest during the 70-meter jump at Miyanomori Hill. The stands were crowded and the slope alongside the landing run-out was carpeted with several thousand schoolchildren—all of them chattering excitedly together in a massed choir of high voices that sounded like a forest full of crickets. But when their hero, Kasaya, stood poised above them for his final jump, the children suddenly fell silent. Kasaya glided to the lip of the jump, launched himself powerfully, soared with immense grace above the crowd and landed with a firm clap of his skis. He sped into the run-out area, his hands clasped in triumph over his head. Suddenly the children's voices rose in delight and washed over Kasaya like a burst of music. He had won Japan's first gold medal of the week. Almost immediately Kasaya was squashed in a cursing stampede of Japanese photographers, who formed a flailing, angry human pyramid to shoot him—and may have won both the Olympic and world titles as the most brutal photographic corps on the planet. Later in the week Norway's Mork finished first off the 90-meter jump and Kasaya came home a creditable fourth.
The Alpine competitions were overwhelmed by Europeans. France's Annie Famose, now 26 and definitely middle-aged by racing standards, never stopped chewing gum as she won both the downhill and the giant slalom. Next, Annie raced to a second place in the slalom, just 1/100 second behind Rosi Mittermeier of West Germany. In the three women's Alpine events, Famose, Mittermeier and Jocelyne Périllat, France's dashing 15-year-old waif, shared all three medals. The men's downhill was won by an Italian customs agent named Marcello Varallo and the men's giant slalom went to that extremely veteran Frenchman, Georges Mauduit.
The U.S. sent a skeleton team to compete that managed to distinguish itself at the opening ceremonies by marching among the immaculately uniformed teams of other nationals in cool-and-casual wear that made the Americans look as though they had just been shopping at the Larchmont A&P. As expected, Julie Lynn Holmes won a gold medal in figure skating and America's slender 14-year-old Dorothy Hamill won a bronze. The only U.S. Alpine skiers to compete were Rosi Fortna, Hank Kashiwa and a cocky new boy from Anchorage, Alaska named Paul Crews. Given to wearing frayed and baggy ski pants and bearing a strong resemblance to Steve McQueen, Crews astonished everyone by winning a bronze medal in the downhill. When asked about his performance, he shrugged as if it were perfectly predictable, and said, "Listen, we deal in superlatives around here."
Once last week's dress rehearsal was over, Sapporo could begin to assess its performance—and its potential—as an international host. It was true that almost nobody beyond the plastic lobbies of Western-style hotels could speak any language but Japanese. And it was true that the snow on the streets had turned a depressing black, that a sour beige smog hung overhead much of the time and that every taxi driver in town had a streak of kamikaze in him. Yet no one could deny the charm and the hospitality of a city where the garbage trucks play gay music over loudspeakers, where the local dairy industry insists upon giving free milk to hung-over reporters at breakfast and where the children cry out hallo! to every gaijin (foreigner) they see.
Whatever happens, one can scarcely help wonder what might have become of Sapporo and the XI Winter Olympiad if William Smith Clark had simply said sayonara when he left town that day. Who knows? Perhaps a big Hokkaido bear would be holding forth in place of Avery Brundage.