Welcoming the World

Updated August 28, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

The East met West in February 1998 as Nagano, Japan played host to 72 nations and regions participating in the final Olympic Games of the 20th century.

The country's raw enthusiasm for the games persisted despite a pummeling of snow, rain and more snow which delayed several of the games alpine events.

The ice hockey tournament was a source of inspirational team efforts. The U.S. women's ice hockey team defeated Canada in the final to capture the sport's first gold medal. In the men's competition, the Czech Republic team, which featured the least amount of professional players of any final-round team, shocked Canada with a legendary shootout victory in the semifinals and held off the mighty Russians in the final to win gold.

Nordic skier Bjorn Dahlie won four medals and became the winningest Winter Olympic athlete ever, leaving Nagano with a career total of 12 medals, including eight gold.

U.S. figure skater Tara Lipinski became the youngest woman ever to win her event. The 15-year-old held off Michelle Kwan's near-perfect challenge for the honor. Russian Ilia Kulik upset favorites Todd Eldridge and Elvis Stojko to capture his first gold medal in men's figure skating.

The home crowd waved flags and cheered wildly through a driving snow for Japanese ski jumpers Masahiko Harada and Takanobu Okabe who tied for the longest jump on skis in Olympic history - 137 meters.

New medal events such as women's ice hockey as well as snowboarding and curling were also received well by the crowds.

Canadian ski boarder Ross Rebagliati won a gold medal in men's slalom, only to have it taken away because of a failed drug test. An arbitrator sided with Rebagliati, who said second-hand smoke caused his positive test, and returned the medal to him.

One of the most memorable images of the games was Austrian Hermann Maier's fall in the downhill. It was a horrible tumble which launched Maier into the air upside-down before smashing him through two retaining fences. Amazingly Maier was not seriously injured and returned three days later to win the Super-G.

Nagano was portrayed as an ancient city rich in oriental history and native culture which was brought into many living rooms around the world for the first time. The games' closing ceremonies were highlighted by 2,000 rythmic drums and 50,000 traditional lanterns, bringing a peaceful end to the weather-weary 18th Olympic Winter Games.

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