February 9, 1998
With the 1998 Winter Olympics underway in Nagano, Japan, former Olympic athletes reflect on the meaning of the games and its place in the collective memory of the nation.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
February 9, 1998
Former Olympic athletes discuss the meaning of the games.
July 30, 1996
A discussion of how Olympic champions are made.
July 23, 1996
An Online Forum discussing the impact of professional players on the Olympic movement.
The NewsHour's panel of historians examine the history of the Olympics.
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1998 Winter Games
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The great bell at Zenkoji Temple in Nagano opened this year's Winter Olympics. The temple is more than 1300 years old. According to legend, it was built to house the first image of Buddha brought to Japan. This town and its jagged mountain peaks form one of the largest ski areas in Japan.
Close to 3,000 athletes from 72 countries are here for this year's games. The Winter Olympics have brought together some of the world's finest athletes since 1924, when the first official games were held in Chamonix, France. The games have survived two world wars, terrorism, and political boycotts. The triumphs and losses have become part of each participating nation's collective history.
One of America's most memorable moments came in 1980 when a young and relatively inexperienced American hockey team beat the mighty Soviets and then went on to win the Gold. That same year Eric Heiden won all five men's speed skating events, an achievement yet to be matched. In 1994, Dan Jansen won Gold in a world record-setting 1,000 meter victory. It was an especially sweet moment for him because he had lost in three prior winter games.
SPORTS ANNOUNCER: And Dan Jansen's Olympic ordeal may finally be over!
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: That same year Bonnie Blair became the first speed skater, male or female, to win three successive Gold medals in the same event. And 1994 was also the year that Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan took to their battle, which got personal and ugly, to the ice.
Americans seem to cherish their skating queens: Carol Heiss, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Kristi Yamaguchi. But the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan confrontation showed that even an ice queen can fall from grace. In the end, Kerrigan took the Silver medal, missing the Gold by 1/10 of a point. Harding was left a distant eighth, and their dual was sixth highest rated TV program in history.
A new generation.
Now, there's a new generation of American athletes. Last month, 17-year-old Michelle Kwan gave a perfect performance to win the U.S. figure skating championships and a spot on the Olympic team. She did it even with a stress fracture in her left foot. She had been sidelined as the alternate skater during the Lillihammer Games. This year, she goes for the Gold, and so does her teammate, 15-year-old Tara Lapinski, the first woman to do a triple-loop triple-loop combination in competition.
ANNOUNCER: Watch the landing right there. And the step up--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Lapinski could become the youngest Gold medalist in woman's figure skating. In women's downhill, Picabo Street is America's best medal hope, even though in a recent pre-Olympic run she crashed at 75 miles per hour, leaving her with a concussion. She says it won't keep her from competing, though. This year, ice hockey officially includes a woman's event.
ANNOUNCER: Rebounding the goal--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And thus far the American team has met expectations with victories over both China and Sweden. Checking is not allowed in women's hockey, but the hitting will be hard as professional players from the National Hockey League make their debut in the winter games.
The NHL is shutting down for 17 days, while its players compete in Nagano. And for the first time in the history of the Olympic games snow boarding is an official event, with giant slalom and half pipe competitions.
Curling, originally an Olympic demonstration sport, also makes its debut. And another first this year, the introduction of the clap skate--these hinge and spring blades have triggered a technological revolution in speed skating. Yesterday Gianni Romme of the Netherlands, using the new blades, captured a new world and a Gold medal in the men's 5000 meters.
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