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Lillehammer Gears Up for Games

Norwegian town is ahead of schedule in run-up to '94 Olympics

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EARLY this month, the calendar in the lobby of the Lillehammer Olympic Organizing Committee read: "Only 340 days to go!" It was a reminder to the 450 staff members that the countdown to the 1994 Winter Games has begun.

The excitement is building - not just at headquarters, but throughout the country. Look no further than the corner grocery store, where the Olympic logo appears above canned mackerel fillets. Women exchange Olympic knitting patterns; Olympic pin collecting clubs are forming four times faster than organizers expected; farmers train their horses to carry wagonloads of tourists; and evening classes in foreign languages prepare locals to serve the 100,000 or so visitors who will descend on Lillehammer (popul ation 22,000) and the equally small neighboring towns of Gjovik and Hamar.

With a year to go, Lillehammer is ahead of schedule. Steve Saye, an assistant director of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), visited last month and says, "No host city in memory has been this far along in its preparations this far out." Already complete are the events arenas (ski jump, speed- and figure-skating arenas, hockey rinks, Alpine and cross-country ski arenas), three cultural exhibition centers, and the broadcast center. Housing for athletes, coaches, and media should be ready in the fa ll.

Still, Petter Ronningen, the Lillehammer Olympic Organizing Committee (LOOC) deputy managing director, says, "We need this year to get ready." A bank executive and former military man, Mr. Ronningen is responsible for operations next year. Recent World Cup events at the site went "quite well," despite a few bugs.

Meanwhile, improvements are still being made on the rail line from Oslo to Lillehammer; express trains will soon make the trip in two hours. Transportation links are especially key because hotels for spectators will not be available in the Olympic area. One-third of the buses in Norway - some 1,400 in all - will ferry people to events. Large parking lots are being built in outlying areas near bus routes, as no private cars will be allowed in the city.

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