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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Soap Opera Overshadows Olympics

LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- It is a land of frozen lakes, of snowdrifts piled as high as roofs, of homes that look like gingerbread houses. In an icy valley to the south of the Arctic Circle, untouched fields of snow spread for kilometers toward the mountains, which, in turn, reach out to touch the clear blue sky.

This is where the XVIIth Winter Olympic Games will be held, beginning with Saturday's opening ceremonies. Over the following 16 days, 2,000 athletes from 66 nations will compete in tiny towns sprinkled throughout the Gudbrandsdalen Valley north of Oslo. Most will go home empty-handed and anonymous.

Then there are the others, the athletes we can't forget, and the names we can't avoid. Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen. Tomba. And, of course, Nancy and Tonya.

What an irony. The Lillehammer Games, the most pristine, the most rural, the most outwardly serene, are about to be broadsided.

One of the greatest scandals in sports history is leaving the United States -- and moving right here. Figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, the 1992 bronze medalist, was coming here Thursday, almost completely recovered from the severely bruised right knee she suffered in that notorious Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Olympic trials.

Also on her way is Tonya Harding. She was expected by next Tuesday, when she will face the U.S. Olympic Committee's Games Administrative Board, which could send her right back to Oregon.

Tuesday ... a day when three hockey games will be played, two women's skiing races will be won and the pairs figure-skating title will be determined. And Harding's hearing in an Oslo hotel will be the only result many will care about.

The saga of Kerrigan and Harding has stolen the spotlight from what has been expected to be the greatest Olympic figure-skating competition. Professionals have been reinstated for the first time, returning champions to the Games. Brian Boitano, Katarina Witt, Viktor Petrenko, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, Yekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov: all former Olympic gold medalists, all former pros, all returned to the fold.

Figure skating is the best way to illustrate the effect of the new, two-year cycle of Olympic Games that is debuting here. In 1992, for the last time, the Winter and Summer games were held together, just five months apart. To give Winter Olympians their day in the sun, the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, decided to stagger the Games. Thus, the 1994 Winter Games are in Norway; the 1996 Summer Olympics will be in Atlanta; the 1998 Winter Games will be in Nagano, Japan; and the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.

How strange that Lillehammer, a town of 23,000 with one main street that never thought it had a chance to hold the Olympic Games, would become the site of all of this.

Never have sport and nature been so intertwined. "The Green Games," IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch calls them. A hockey arena was built inside a mountain. The bobsled track is hidden in the trees. Cross-country skiing, the most popular Olympic sport among Norwegians, will be standing room only -- in the snow. The medals are made of stone and winner's podium from ice.

It is almost too good to be true.

Well, it is too good to be true. The narrow roads already are clogging. Camera crews are preparing to stake out every move of Kerrigan and Harding. The U.S. Olympic Committee wishes someone, anyone, would pay attention to its 150 other athletes.