Nagano Heads to Olympics With Pride
NAGANO, Japan (AP) _ Foreigners _ normally a rare sight _ roam the streets. Colorful banners hang from each downtown telephone pole. Police from around the country have arrived to thwart terrorists and prevent traffic from turning to gridlock.
From quiet mountain city to Winter Olympic host; Nagano’s transformation is almost complete. And for officials unaccustomed to the international spotlight, never before have the stakes been so high.
``All of Japan is getting very excited about the games,″ Nagano Mayor Tasuku Tsukada said Monday. ``It is with great pride that we will hold the Olympics here.″
Great pride, and great trepidation.
The Nagano Olympics, which begin Saturday, are expected to be the largest Winter Games yet, with more than 2,400 athletes from 72 countries taking part. They will feature three new sports _ curling, snowboarding and women’s hockey.
Tsukada said he believes bringing the Olympics to the Japan Alps will show the world some of the better points of traditional Japan, and said he was particularly pleased by the opportunity for local schoolchildren to meet foreigners.
``The number of international exchanges has grown dramatically,″ he said.
But the size of the games has seriously upped the ante on costs and logistics _ and that has stretched local resources about as far as they can go.
When Nagano was chosen as host in 1991, organizers estimated the operating cost for the games at about $608 million. That has swollen to $824 million.
Organizers now say they are confident the increase will be offset by better-than-expected ticket sales and revenues for sponsorships and broadcasting rights.
But the operating-cost figure does not include money spent on construction of venues and major highways and railroads _ which boost the total bill for Olympic-related spending to around $10 billion, making these perhaps the most games expensive ever.
Tsukada acknowledged Monday that Nagano city alone has invested $693 million on the construction of five major facilities within the city limits _ about 20 percent higher than initial forecasts.
He denied criticism that the facilities will be of little use after the games, and that the money might better have been spent on projects for Nagano’s older citizens or on schools.
``There is no need for concern,″ he said. ``The facilities will be put to sufficient use.″
He said several post-Olympic international competitions are scheduled at the main speed-skating venue. An ice rink will be converted into a public pool after the games, and the main press center will be used for conventions and international conferences.
``For our city, hosting the games is very beneficial,″ he said. ``It is a major intangible investment for the future.″
Tsukada also said he is confident that strict regulations, car pools and increased use of buses will avert major problems with transportation during the Feb. 7-22 games.
``I was impressed on the way to work this morning by the smooth flow of traffic,″ he said. ``I think this is a sign that our appeal to the people is working.″
Takashi Yamada, the games’ transportation director, had a more cautious appraisal.
``The venues are very spread out over five main areas,″ he said. ``Tying these areas together systematically and smoothly is extremely difficult.″
Yamada said 900 buses and 1,500 cars have been readied by the organizing committee. ``We didn’t have enough buses of our own,″ he said. ``We had to bring in 300 from other areas in Japan.″
He said 60,000 athletes, officials, media personnel and other guests will be using the system, along with 1.2 million tourists on the roads, trains and venue shuttles.
On many street corners, police in blue and yellow parkas _ many of them brought in from out town _ were directing traffic, doing random searches of cars and sealing manhole covers as a security precaution.
To make sure drivers don’t get lost _ a problem during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta _ most of the drivers are from the Nagano area and 1,000 of the official cars have been equipped with electronic car navigation systems.
``I think things overall are going fairly well,″ he said. ``But we will have to wait and see what will happen once the volume of traffic increases with the beginning of the games.″