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Thursday, February 5, 1998 Published at 18:44 GMT

Sport: Winter Olympics 98

Nagano gears up for Winter Spectacular

The last Olympics of the century are expected to be the largest Winter Games yet, with more than 2,400 athletes from 72 countries taking part in the Japanese mountain city of Nagano.

BBC News will offer a comprehensive service of results, reviews and the best of the action online.

Starting on February 7 with the spectacular opening ceremony, every sport - from Snowboarding to Biathlon - will be covered to help you to enjoy the world's greatest festival of winter sports.

[ image: Nagano:
Nagano: "The roof of Japan"
Nagano city, which has a population of 360,000, is both an industrial town and the spiritual home to Japanese Buddhism.

It is already swamped with foreign visitors as preparations come to a climax for the opening on Saturday.

The athletes have taken up residence at the Olympic Village, a compound of high-rises towering over the snow-covered rice paddies and small wooden homes on the outskirts of the town.

[ image: The Zenkoji temple - home of Japanese Buddhism]
The Zenkoji temple - home of Japanese Buddhism
Japanese Buddhists have been making pilgrimages for centuries to Nagano's Zenkoji temple, founded more than 1,300 years ago.

On Tuesday a traditional festival was held at the temple to welcome the Spring, and foreign visitors flocked to watch.

The city also has a rich tradition in art, literature and poetry, and is one of Japan's most popular ski resorts.

[ image: A Buddhist festival links Nagano to its past]
A Buddhist festival links Nagano to its past
The Japanese organisers have welcomed the chance to show the world something more of their culture.

This is the second time that Japanhas hosted the Winter Olympics. The 1972 games, in Sapporo, were the first held outside Western Europe or the United States.

Makoto Kobayashi, the head of the Nagano Olympic Organising Committee said, "It's a long time dream for us come true in Nagano. We wanted to invite the games here even before the Second World War. People in Nagano are delighted."

Soaring Costs

Since Nagano was chosen as host in 1991, the city has made great efforts to modernise its infrastructure.

[ image: The new bullet train halves travel time from Tokyo to 90 minutes]
The new bullet train halves travel time from Tokyo to 90 minutes
New roads, five new venues, and a high-speed train link have been built. But the costs of hosting the event has exceeded initial estimates.

All the projects and construction work had to be made with minimum impact on the environment, in accordance with the requirements of the International Olympic Committee.

Japan's own environmental lobby also insisted on shortening the length of the men's downhill course, which encroached on a national park.

The Nagano organisers hope that the financial and environmental concerns will soon be offset by the national pride of winning gold medals.

[ image: Japan's gold medal winner in 1972]
Japan's gold medal winner in 1972
Mr Kobayashi said he hoped that Japan would win at least two gold medals.

The only time Japan has won an individual gold medal in the Winter Olympics was in the 1972 Saporo Games when Yukio Kassaya won the ski jumping.

But the Japanese won team gold medals in Nordic combined at the 1992 and 1994 Winter Games. They also have strong teams and high expectations for ski jumping, at which crowds of over 40,000 people are expected.

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Winter Olympics 98 Contents

  Relevant Stories

04 Feb 98 | Sport
History of the winter olympics

19 Jan 98 | World
Olympic torch burnout

12 Nov 97 | Sport
Ski row heading for agreement

31 Oct 97 | Sport
Olympic skiers could have snow-where to go

  Internet Links

Official Nagano '98 site

International Olympic Committee

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