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A Visitor's Olympic Impressions

Norway's Olympics bring to life trials, traditions, and soap operas. OLYMPIC NOTEBOOK

DURING the Winter Olympics, a visitor collects a sleigh full of impressions quickly. Here are some extracted from one reporter's frosty notebook at the 17th Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway:

* When you invite the world to your doorstep, the guests sometimes introduce some unexpected challenges. For example: fire stations in the Olympic region have answered several false alarms caused by people taking showers with the door open, causing steam to activate smoke alarms.

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* You've got to love the Norwegians' philosophy about living in the cold. ``There is no such thing as bad weather,'' they say, ``just bad choice of attire.''

* Any magazine contemplating a winter fashion section would do well to stop in Norway. The clothes on display during the Lillehammer Games are of unsurpassed style and variety, to say nothing of being functional.

* In the United States, spectators often use portable stadium seats and cushions. In Norway, foam pads are considered important spectating accessories, but for the sake of one's feet not one's seat. Much winter sports watching is done standing, and the cushions not only are softer underfoot, but they also insulate against snow and ice.

* These will not go down as the Leg-Room Olympics. Seats in the various new arenas are so cramped that, once down, there is almost no getting up. A trip to the concession stand is almost out of the question.

* It's little wonder that cowbells are such popular noisemakers at ski races. Have you ever heard thunderous applause from a crowd wearing gloves and mittens?

* One of the hottest attractions for the Olympic arts festival this year is the Oslo Gospel Choir. That sounds strange; the group doesn't. The choir, which often sings in English, has a strong American feel to it.

* Lake Mjosa is the unsung natural beauty of these Games. It serves to connect the three communities that share the Olympics: Lillehammer, Hamar, and Gjovik. Mjosa's ice-covered waters stretch like a wide river down the heart of the Gudbrandsdal valley. Many visitors no doubt will go home daydreaming of a summer vacation along its banks.

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* If Lake Placid could turn its athletes' village into a low-security prison after the 1980 Winter Games, no one should blink when Lillehammer's Olympic organizers indicate they will convert the disco at the Olympic Village into a church.

* Sight not soon forgotten: a blimp, viewed from overhead, as it floated above Lillehammer. This unusual vantage point occurred on a bus ride down from Birkebeineren Ski Stadium, up-mountain from the host city - and the blimp.

* While many of the sports in the Winter Olympics are photogenic, most provide narrow descriptive possibilities. What really can be said, for example, about a bobsled or luge race, in which the naked eye is almost incapable of detecting what happened. Most of the sled, ski, and skating races are first and foremost battles with the clock, even more so than running events in the Summer Games, which are primarily strategic battles.

* The compulsory dance portion of the ice-dancing competition rates as an audio version of Chinese water torture, with each couple demonstrating their footwork to the same piece of music. At these Olympics, that meant playing the same number 21 consecutive times for two compulsory dances.

* Speed-skating should consider a change to its Olympic format whenever the races are held indoors. Instead of having the top seeded competitors race first, put them last so that the drama and suspense can build. Figure skating uses this format. On an outdoor speed-skating oval, where conditions can be better early, the current system may make sense, but not when indoor skating rinks offer consistent conditions throughout the competition.

* Like other three-time Olympians from the former Soviet Union, figure-skater Viktor Petrenko has had to march under different banners at each of the last three Winter Games. In 1988 he skated for the USSR, in 1992 for the Unified Team, and this year for Ukraine.

* One American reporter assigned to the Kerrigan-Harding watch says that Nancy Kerrigan's agent, Jerry Solomon, has become the de facto press attache of the United States Figure Skating Association, since he controls access to one of the principals in the major melodrama of these Olympics.

* These Green Olympics, so named because of their environmental sensitivity, are also gray Games. The antismoking campaign that Albertville, France, conducted at the Winter Olympics two years ago is all but forgotten here as many visitors regularly reach for their cigarettes.

* The daily weather report found in the official newspaper of the Lillehammer Winter Games carries temperatures from around the world. But it is a perplexing list. Not a single North American city made the 30 listed cities one day, while temperatures appeared for Tenerife, Canary Islands; Las Palmas, Argentina; and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

* The traffic rotary, a familiar invention to Boston drivers, is an unexpected fixture of Lillehammer's road network.

* Some English words are practically identical twins to their Norwegian counterparts. On the other hand, the differences can be striking too. ``Dress warmly'' in Norwegian is ``Kle deg godt og varmt.''

* Wearing boots day after day makes sockfooted moments all the more pleasurable.

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