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Making best of Norway: Skating just skims surface WINTER OLYMPICS


LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- I have located Norway. It turns out to be right next to, but different from, Sweden. Also I'm pretty sure that Finland is around here someplace.

Getting here was not easy. My flight from New York to Oslo sat on the ground at Kennedy airport for three and a half hours while the pilot came up with a series of increasingly lame excuses for the delay: He was waiting for connecting passengers; the dog ate his flight plan; vandals had stolen the landing gear; etc.

I believe that the pilot was actually stalling because he didn't know for sure where Norway was. I bet that, between announcements, he and his flight crew were frantically thumbing through volume "N" of the World Book Encyclopedia, looking for the Norway section. ("Here it is! It's an inert gas!" "No, you idiot! That's 'nitrogen'!")

But eventually they figured it out, and we took off and found Norway, which is a darned good thing because the U.S. bobsled team was on our flight.

Most of the team members were large muscular individuals. You need to be big and strong for this event, because at the beginning of the bobsled run you have to push the sled hard and get it going very fast, and then, just as the sled starts hurtling down the steep, icy, treacherous track at speeds upwards of 80 miles per hour, you have to -- in one smooth, fluid motion -- let go of the sled and fall down.

At least that's what I would do. The team members, however, actually get INTO the sled, where they are jammed together in a tiny, uncomfortable space, very similar to the seat I occupied during the 247-hour flight from New York to Oslo, except without the beverage-cart service.

Speaking of which, I noted that one of the bobsled team members had several rum drinks. I pointed this out to veteran sportswriter Dave Kindred.

"It's OK," Kindred said. "He doesn't steer."

Anyway, we finally arrived in Norway. It is a Nordic country, defined, technically, as "a country where they have a funny little diagonal line going through the letter 'o.' " Not counting reindeer and fish, Norway's population is very small. I probably met most of the residents right at the airport, and they all seem very nice. They also speak excellent English, a fact that makes Norway seem quite foreign to me, inasmuch as I live in Miami.

As for the country itself, if I were to describe it in one word, that word would be "cold." There is snow all over the place. I don't wish to be critical of the Olympic Committee, but in my opinion, when you're planning a major event such as the Winter Olympics, with people coming from all over the world, it makes a lot more sense to hold it in a warmer climate, or during the summer.

But that is water over the dam (or, as we say in Norway, "Vatter uver da vatterholderbakker"). We are here now, and we are going to make the best of it. Besides, there are many exciting stories to cover, including:

1. Tonya Harding.

2. The U.S. speed skaters, and what they think about Tonya Harding.

3. Norway's emergence as a modern industrial nation, and whether this is fair to Tonya Harding.

I plan to cover all these stories and more in the days ahead. Unless this would require me to go outside.

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