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Trust in Partners Is Critical Asset

In luge, bobsled, skating, confidence is key. POSTCARD FROM ALBERTVILLE

A WORD that belongs at the Olympics but often is overlooked is "trust."

The word pops to mind with the first sight of the doubles competition of the luge here at the 16th Winter Games. Can there be a clearer example of person-to-person trust in sports than that of two athletes, pressed together on a barely visible sled, hurtling down an icy chute?

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In bobsledding, pushers huddle behind drivers entrusted with the team's safety.

Trust is a major factor in pairs skating, where men lift, twirl, or throw their partners high above an unforgiving sheet of ice. For this reporter, a defining moment of these Games came in the pairs event.

While virtually every other pair experienced Olympic jitters (eight of the final 10 couples stumbled or fell at least once), Russians Natalya Mishkutienok and Artur Dmitriev skated a program that was a feast for the eyes - graceful, powerful, and richly textured with choreographic flourishes.

They weren't perfect, but they were so close to it that the crowd sensed a masterpiece in the making, something to place beside such Olympic moments as Torvill and Dean's ice-dancing jewel at the '84 Games, or Brian Boitano's superlative performance in 1988.

By Games' end Sunday, the Russian performance may be but a blip in a series of athletic highlights. It deserves better, and would receive it if the winners were French, American, or otherwise followed by a pack of journalists. Instead, the Olympic champions are only characters in what many consider the bittersweet last hurrah for the former Soviet athletic system.

Another sobering moment came with the news that German bobsled driver Harald Czudaj had spied on East German teammates for the secret police. Concern grows that more Stasi sports connections - as well as suspicions of drug use by former East Germen athletes - may come to light.

Chinese speed skater Ye Qiaobo had her own sad story to tell. After American Bonnie Blair edged her in the 500 meters (and later in the 1,000), curious reporters asked what accounted for her absence from the '88 Games. A tearful Ye, Asia's first female winter medalist, spilled out a tale of misplaced trust - of how she had unwittingly been led to take a banned substance by her coach, tested positive, and been suspended for more than a year.

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Speed skating is truly one of the most graceful-looking sports on the winter agenda. Unfortunately, the format invites boredom. Two skaters at a time take the track, but they race the clock, not each other. For the sport to grow, it could use an infusion of entertainment value, perhaps in the form of match races after a qualifying round.

An Olympic sport that is inherently a "good view" is ice hockey. In one sense it is the Muzak of the Games, providing a percussive soundtrack of body checks almost every waking hour of the Olympics.

There may be too many games, but the arena in Meribel, a picturesque ski resort, is a cozy 7,000-seat den that draws everyone into the action. It's an electric place, a perfect endorsement for these bigger-is-not-always-better Olympics.

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