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Lillehammer Organizers Learned the Lessons of ’80

February 10, 1994

LILLEHAMMER, Norway (AP) _ The second-smallest Winter Olympic city hopes to avoid the transportation quagmire that remains the legacy of the smallest host, Lake Placid.

″I was there working for Norwegian radio,″ said Tor Aune, spokesman for the Lillehammer Olympic Organizing Committee. ″I remember the opening ceremony. Traffic was at a complete standstill.

″That has been the nightmare in our transportation planning from the beginning.″

In 1980, Lake Placid (population 3,000) tried to cope with the Olympic crush by setting up a complex system in which people would park their cars outside the city and take buses into town.

At least that was how it was supposed to work. The buses broke down and drivers - many of whom were brought in from Quebec and couldn’t speak English - got lost. Thousands of ticketholders and reporters stood around waiting while the events they were supposed to attend went on without them.

″The most important thing you can do to make the Olympics a success is to do everything possible to satisfy the press,″ said Jack Shea, a 1932 Olympic gold medalist who was an organizer of the 1980 Games and still lives in the town in upstate New York. ″It’s so important for the press to be happy and say nice things about your community.

″We had a hell of a mess.″

Organizers finally worked things out late in the Games, but not in time to ease the controversy. The 13th Winter Olympics had lived up to their unlucky number.

Now comes Lillehammer, population 23,000, where the XVIIth Winter Olympics begin Saturday. The lessons learned 12 years ago are at the top of the blackboard for Norwegian officials.

″We will have the test on Saturday to see if we have succeeded,″ Aune said.

Up to 100,000 people per day are expected to converge on Lillehammer for the Games, which run Feb. 12-27.

Private vehicles will be all but banned between Lillehammer and Hamar to the south, where speedskating and hockey will be held. Shuttle buses will bring fans into the Olympic city and three to four times as many buses will be running within Lillehammer, where it will take a special permit to drive between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day. Bus drivers have been brought in early from all over Norway to familiarize themselves with the town.

In addition, Lillehammer has a big edge over Lake Placid: trains. During the crush to get fans from Oslo, where many of them will be staying, to Lillehammer, 110 miles away, trains will be running every 6 to 10 minutes during the morning rush hour. The schedule won’t be quite as intense in the evening because events are staggered, but the sound of clattering rails will be heard often.

″If at the peak we expect some 100,000 people in Lillehammer,″ Aune said, ″we hope between 20,000 and 25,000 will be on the trains.″

To cope with that influx, more track has been added, and trains headed north in the morning will be given priority.

Unlike Albertville in 1992 - where travel between widely spread venues took hours and hours - Lillehammer’s events will all take place within 36 miles of the Olympic city.

″It’s very important to keep the venues as close as possible to the Olympic hub,″ Shea said. ″Hell, some people with tickets in Albertville never did get there because it was so far away.″

But there’s one thing no amount of planning can anticipate. That’s Mother Nature.

″We all have nightmares concerning our bus system,″ Aune conceded. ″It can be vulnerable if we have a lot of bad weather that make the roads icy or a lot of snow.″

There’s already a lot of snow - more than 4 feet - blanketing the picturesque fields and forests.

The Norwegian road department has assured Olympic organizers that it can clear the roads from Oslo to Kvitfjell - just north of Lillehammer, where some alpine events will be held - in one hour, Aune said. ″They’ve collected all the snow-clearing equipment in southern Norway for that contingency,″ he said.

Shea, for one, thinks the Norwegians will pull it off without a hitch. He doesn’t expect them to have the bureaucratic infighting that Shea blames for many of the problems in Lake Placid.

″I can’t conceive of them have anything in Norway without it being a terrific success,″ he said.

″They’re the people who really started this winter sports concept years ago. They’re real serious about it. They’re proud of their athletes and they’re proud of the way they do things in Norway.″

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