For the first time, the Olympic Winter Games were held over 16 days in Calgary, including three weekends. The number of events increased to 46, compared to 39 in Sarajevo. Among the new events were the super-G in alpine skiing and nordic combined team events, which had last been part of the Olympics in 1948. In all, 57 nations participated in the Games, with the Soviet Union leading the medal table with 11 gold.
Short track speed skating, freestyle skiing and curling all appeared on the Calgary program as demonstration events. All would be added to the Olympic program at future Games.
East German figure skater Katarina Witt defended her Olympic title, dazzling the audience with her seductive skating to Bizet’s Carmen. Canada’s Elizabeth Manley beat American Debi Thomas to claim the silver. In the men’s event, Brian Boitano of the United States edged out Canadian Brian Orser for the gold medal in an extremely close decision.
Gunde Svan, the Swedish cross-country skier, led his 4x10km relay team to victory Five days later, he won the 50km event by more than a minute to bring his career gold medal total to four.
On the slick, downhill slopes, blasted by howling Chinook gales, Italian heart-throb Alberto Tomba raced to victory in the slalom and the giant slalom, while France’s Franck Piccard won the gold in the new super-G event.
If Tomba and Witt were the matinee idols of the Games, ski jumping provided two of the more unique stars. First, Finland’s Matti Nykanen, known as the Flying Finn, won all three ski jumping gold medals – normal hill, large hill and the new team event – an Olympic record for a ski jumper. No ski jumper had previously won two gold medals at a Games; he won three. He had also won a gold and silver medal in 1984.
While Nykanen soared, Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards sank. The likeable British ski jumper, who only took up the event two years before the Games, scored less than half the points of any other athlete in his events. Still, Eddie the Eagle became a cult hero of the Winter Olympics, and remains one of the Games’ most cherished characters.
In the spirit of Eddie the Eagle, Jamaica’s first-ever bobsleigh team – including a reggae singer and a helicopter pilot – rumbled down the track. The athletes had trained for the Games on pushcarts in the snowless Blue Mountains of Jamaica.