Everything that charm, efficiency, esthetic sensitivity, hard work, pride, clean living, prayers—and lots and lots of money—can do has been done to make the 1972 Olympic Winter Games in Sapporo an unforgettable event. The often-grumpy humor that prevailed in 1968 at Grenoble is long past now, and the Japanese have the Olympic torch. Though much of Sapporo is a sprawl of industrial urbanity, the new Olympic sites approach works of art and the city itself is already prettier than usual, thanks to a radiant display of ice sculpture through its snowy streets.
The Japanese are determined to outdo the world in this Winter Olympics. True, there will be no Charles de Gaulle to appear majestically bareheaded, untouched by the cold as if he had just stepped down from some divine mountaintop, which is what happened last time. But the Emperor of Japan—who once carried his own intimations of divinity—will grace the ceremonies with his special presence. As the final touches were put to the facilities this month, it was announced that the Japanese so far have spent a staggering total of $31 million on the Sapporo Games—more than any nation in Winter Olympic history, $12.5 million more for installations than was spent in France in 1968. The Sapporo total does not include the $119.5 million that went to pay for the new silent subway system, whose rubber-tired cars have been swooshing since mid-December between the suburban Olympic Village and the heart of town.
In the Village no expense will be spared to make the 2,300 or so athletes and officials feel wanted. Menus will swing from Far Eastern specialties to such staples as hamburgers and milkshakes, all based on a 6,000-calorie-a-day average.
The prestige of Japan is at stake, and mere money is no object. The one unmanageable—and so unpredictable—element, as always, is weather. And there is great fear about that, for not long ago it was forecast that a horrendous doka yuki—an extra-heavy blizzard—would bury Sapporo sometime during the Feb. 3 to Feb. 13 period of the Olympics. If this should happen, the Japanese profess to be ready—with men and money. They are willing to spend as much as $3.5 million to mount what surely would be the world's most elaborate snow-removal operation. Behind each snowstorm will come a course-packing battalion of up to 3,500 members of the Self Defense Forces, enough army boots to smooth out any downhill or slalom run.
Well, doka yuki or no doka yuki, the Games will go on, and neither the cast of contestants nor the grand patterns of winter sports are quite the same as before. This time it seems that IOC President Avery Brundage is adamant about stamping out the widespread professionalism in amateur skiing, and possibly most of the finest Alpine and many Nordic racers will not be allowed to march in the grand parades or compete for Olympic medals. Brundage himself has advanced an alternate plan: stage just plain FIS world championship events, without Olympic sanction, on the Sapporo facilities. But the decision will not come until the last minute, and the Japanese, with a huge financial and emotional investment, can only hold their breath until then.
If full-scale Alpine events are held, it is unlikely that any one racer will run everyone off the courses as Jean-Claude Killy did with his dramatic triple-medal sweep in 1968. (An outbreak of broken legs and ankles has further diminished that chance, one of the more recent victims being France's slalom artist, Patrick Russel.) International racing power is now more widespread, and there is a good chance this year that as many as six countries could divide the medals.
With the women, a russet-haired, broad-hipped Austrian farm girl named Annemarie Proell is building a splendid prospect of winning two, possibly all three Alpine gold medals, although one or another of France's brilliant little ladies will likely ruin her sweep. Annemarie herself says, "I don't think I can win all three events. The slalom is very steep at the top and not to my liking."
Back in 1968 the Russian cross-country skiers were beaten by the blue-eyed Norwegians. This year the Soviet men will probably win more gold than anybody, and their cross-country ladies, a robust and muscular sorority, are just about invincible. The Russian hockey team is on a par with the Boston Bruins, as usual, and simply cannot be beaten. Indeed, it seems as if this could be a remarkably triumphant Olympics for Communist countries. Even East Germany has been converted into an athlete factory in recent years, drafting promising children and putting them into early training almost as if they were racehorses. The results of it all will be monumentally apparent in Munich this summer, but even at Sapporo the East Germans will probably win an impressive number of medals.
The host Japanese, meanwhile, have never, ever won a gold medal in the Winter Games, and, indeed, only one silver. But this year, given the impetus of having their very own Olympics, they have developed two strong contenders, the dazzling ski jumper Yukio Kasaya, who has been superhuman on the European circuit this winter, and Keiichi Suzuki, a surging speed skater.
So much for Olympic power. The U.S. has only marginal hopes of winning any of the ski events, with the possible exception of a slalom medal by one of the Cochran sisters or Tyler Palmer. And another notably uncommon condition that has dampened U.S. hopes is the fact that an American is not favored to win a gold medal in figure skating. This appears to be the year for Trixie Schuba of Austria, and this country's two shiniest stars—Julie Lynn Holmes and Janet Lynn—must simply wait their turn for first place.