JOURNALISTS dispatched to France's Savoie region to cover the most scattered Olympics in history face a dateline dilemma:
To place all their stories in Albertville is to ignore the fact that these decentralized Games occur at 10 venues over a 620-square-mile area.
But to use a mini-atlas of datelines may confuse readers, and it requires reporters to get to such far-flung mountain outposts as Les Arcs for speed skiing, La Plagne for bobsledding and luge, and Val d'Isere for men's Alpine ski races, venues that are 40 to 50 miles from Albertville. The 10 competition sites are so dispersed that Jean-Claude Killy, the French skiing great who is the co-president of the local Olympic organizing committee, learned to pilot a helicopter to survey his mountainous domain.
Says Killy: "The advantage is that all the towns are used to organizing international [winter sports] events. The disadvantage is that they are spread out, making transportation a challenge. But we believe it [the Olympic bus system] will work."
Transportation has been a concern at other Olympics.
A bus drivers' strike severely disrupted the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., while the horrifying traffic jams anticipated in Los Angeles for the 1984 summer Games never materialized.
This time, the hope is that by limiting traffic before and after events, gridlock can be averted on the narrow, twisting roads. Athletes in certain sports have been housed near their competition sites - at Club Meds, in some cases - to ensure ease of access.
"I really appreciate being in Val d'Isere, at the same venue as the Alpine events," says Frenchman Franck Piccard, the silver medalist in Sunday's men's downhill race. "No time or energy is wasted in transition.... On the other hand, you don't meet athletes from other disciplines, unless the competition program permits it, which is a pity."
The majority of the athletes are staying in the spa town of Brides-les-bains, described in an Olympic Village publication as "not near anything," but "not too far from anywhere."
According to Olympic rules, a region cannot bid for the Games.
To get around this, Mr. Killy and his Savoie compatriots designated Albertville as the host city, even though it lacks the cachet or winter-sports tradition of Val d'Isere and Courchevel. A town of 20,000 that is the largest in the region, Albertville was the natural choice to avoid an outbreak of ski-resort rivalries.
Juan Antonio Samaranch, the president of the International Olympic Committee, says: "We are envisioning the possibility of holding future Games in several regions or even in more than one country, but with one city given overall responsibility for the project." The idea is to lighten the burden and open up opportunities in places that are not well-suited, either through geography or infrastructure, to hold a full slate of Olympic events. Finland, for example, says Mr. Samaranch.
David Miller, chief sports correspondent for The Times of London, writes: "The fulfillment of Samaranch's prediction ... will mean a simultaneous but separated gathering of world championships, linked only by television." Athletic excellence would take precedence over par- ticipation and global togetherness, he says.
If the Winter Games do go to a joint or team-hosting format, it won't be for a while. The 1994 winter Games, which will start the new alternating format with the summer Olympics, will be held in Lillehammer, Norway. One of the selling points for Lillehammer was the relative compactness of competition sites. In 1998, Nagano, Japan, a city of 350,000, will roll out the winter Olympics welcome mat.
In the 21st century, though, who knows? Mountainless Finland might cut a deal with Ostersund in Sweden to share an Olympics. Maybe communities in Germany and Austria will join forces, or Switzerland and France.
The Albertville Games, with their alliance of multiple jurisdictions, even if under the same flag, promise to be a much-watched experiment.