How Lillehammer set the standard

When a Norwegian reporter asked Blair before the Olympics whether her family would be coming to Lillehammer, the skater said she wasn't sure because of the considerable expense. The reporter quoted her, and the next day he received offers from enough local residents to provide lodging for 60 of Blair's relatives and friends.

Back in those pre-Atlanta bomber, pre-9/11 days, security was less intrusive. When my girlfriend/now wife arrived in Lillehammer midway through the 1994 Olympics, she was able to walk into the media village without being asked for a credential. When she reached the housing desk, the receptionist simply gave her the key to my room.

The Norwegians were so welcoming that Jansen says they rushed up to his relatives to hug and congratulate them on his victory in the 1,000 meters -- without even knowing they were related to the skater.

But wait. I'm getting ahead of myself. There was another story in Lillehammer.

The ice charades

Despite the constant blue skies, figure skater Brian Boitano says he felt a gray cloud over the Games because of the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan soap opera.

"It was the weirdest Olympics I have ever been to," the three-time Olympian says. "It was just an odd thing, like there was a dark cloud over that whole Olympics. It was a real negative vibe there. And the athletes didn't understand. We were in the athletes' village, and we were over the Tonya and Nancy thing already. Nancy was feeling better and we were happy she was competing and it was looking good, and we were like, 'Why are people here from the National Enquirer?'"

Why not? Every other media outlet was covering the saga that began when Harding's ex-husband hired a man to break Kerrigan's knee at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. By the time the Lillehammer Games began, the media frenzy was such that Nordic combined skier Ryan Heckman termed it the "People Magazine Olympics."

So many reporters stood outside waiting for Harding's arrival (did I mention it was cold?) that our newspaper's photographer went to a nearby house and rented a 12-foot stepladder so he could get a clear angle of the scene. When Harding and Kerrigan skated at a practice session, they prompted so many photos that silver medalist Elvis Stojko described the cameras snapping on auto-shoot as if it was machine gun fire.

"There was the tabloid aspect, but then there was also Oksana Baiul," Stojko says. "[Harding and Kerrigan] brought attention in a tabloid way, but there were enough stories -- real stories -- that once people paid attention, they realized there was a lot of great stuff here."

People were clearly swept up by the drama of the women's short program, drawing what was then the largest rating for any sporting event in American history. Only the final episode of "M*A*S*H," the last episode of "Roots" and the "Who Shot J.R." episode of "Dallas" had higher ratings.

When Harding's name was announced for her free skate routine two days later, she did not appear on the ice. The crowd waited while speculating, "What is Tonya up to this time?" Finally, she took the ice and began her skate. But then she stopped abruptly, skated up to the judges with tears running down her face, pointed to a broken lace on her skate and begged them to let her start over.

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