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Olympics' lofty lessons lost on some

Now what are we supposed to do? We've had two weeks of watching people leap, sail, twirl and glide on ice and air. We've had clear-cut victories and decisive defeats. We've had a daily dose of a soap opera right out of Snow White _ with Rose Red getting hers _ and Robin Hood and a black swan.

Now we are back in Washington, D.C., the city of anti-climax, the city of guff and managed competition. More than the rest of the country, we will miss the grace and fire of the Winter Olympics. We will miss watching the genuine, if crazy, profiles in courage, the ski jumpers who soar like eagles, and who keep their hands behind the back and land with their feet together. We don't get much of that.

Our leaden-footed politicians clump around, getting mad at the wrong people _ much of their ire should be directed at themselves. If Congress wanted to do something really useful, it could organize a committee to investigate the scandalous decision in the ice-dancing contest of Feb. 21.

Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean put on a show that was pure gold. It was incandescent _ and fun. He threw her up in the air; she threw him right back up in the air. Maybe male judges felt threatened by this witty show of equal-opportunity body-hurling. Whatever made them go bronze, they were wrong.

The Torvill-Dean turn was delightful also for offering an incomparable glimpse of British enthusiasm. High in the stands, the cameras found a little band of Brits with a large Union Jack at the ready in case they were moved to do something terribly un-British: that is, show feeling. When Torvill and Dean were taking their bows, the British leader was moved to stand up, and it seemed he might even raise the flag. But his compatriots, anxious to keep the flag of stiff-upper-lip still flying, remained seated. The rest of the arena was going berserk. He had to motion his countrymen to get up.

And while we are on the subject of national character, a word about Norway. They should have gotten a gold for being the perfect hosts. They kept showing us what the Olympics are supposed to be all about. They cheered everyone. They received their many golds with joy, but they seemed to be just as glad when others won. There was none of that lamentable gloating chant of "We're No. 1," as in another country we know at the Los Angeles Olympic Games. When Dan Jansen did his heartbreaking victory spin with his baby in one arm and tulips in the other, the Norwegians couldn't have been nicer. They waved their flags and wept as if he were one of their own.

Another good-conduct medal should have gone to Bonnie Blair's mother. Every time her daughter was getting another gold, some child in the enormous "Blair Bunch" entourage would come up and demand her attention. Although she obviously would have liked to watch the ceremony and maybe hear her Midwestern daughter say again that she was "just doing something I like to do," Mom showed admirable patience to someone who might have been wondering about the restroom.

We heard complaints about the delayed-action reporting, so ironic in the satellite age. Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding were long asleep when they were shown at home, finally performing on Wednesday night.

I hoped that Harding watched closely the exquisite teenager from Ukraine, Oksana Baiul. She was dressed in a fetching feather costume as a black swan, and she was precise and fragile. She was totally affecting, unlike Kerrigan, who was merely perfect.

Like Harding, Baiul had a rotten childhood. She is an orphan from Odessa. But she is a living lesson: It is possible to be unfortunate and yet not curdled.

From the moment she hit the ice, Harding showed that she was out of place. Her costume was terminally tacky, a haltered collection of garish plastic sticks that looked like paint samples. Her tight little face proclaimed what everyone seemed to know: that it was pay-up time for Rose Red.

We all knew she wasn't a good skate. She showed she wasn't much of a skater, either. After the first night, Harding was in 10th place. For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, she was not interviewed by Connie Chung.

Tonya Harding didn't belong at the Olympics. She didn't get it. It wasn't just that she admitted she knew about the Kerrigan knee-capping after it happened and didn't tell anyone. Before that, on hearing that her rival had been bludgeoned, she said, "I wanted to beat her butt at Lillehammer." That alone should have disqualified her.

Harding had coaches who taught her how to do the triple axel. But she had no one to tell her about the golden rule, which is supposedly the law that prevails at the Olympics.

Universal Press Syndicate

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