The 18th Winter Games included a record 2,177 athletes from 72 countries and marked the Olympics first trip to Asia in 26 years.
Nagano was pummeled by snow, sleet, rain and even a minor earthquake during the Games. The weather caused countless delays and rescheduling got so bad that organizers had to cram the men's super G, women's downhill, and women's combined downhill into one day—the first tripleheader in Olympic Alpine history.
Germany won the most medals (29) for the second time in its third Winter Games as a unified team. The team from host Japan surpassed expectations, winning more gold medals (five) and total medals (10) than any previous Japanese team. And the United States tied its previous best (1994), by winning 13 medals.
Austria's Hermann Maier provided the Games' most enduring image. A horrifying spill during the men's downhill spun him airborne like a rag-doll and sent him crashing through two retaining fences. Amazingly, he recovered to win two gold medals within the next six days.
For the third straight Winter Games a woman won the most medals. Russia's Larissa Lazutina medaled in all five cross-country events, earning three golds, a silver and a bronze. Cross-country veteran Bjorn Dählie, of Norway, won four medals, thus becoming the winningest Winter Games athlete ever with eight career gold medals and 12 overall.
U.S. figure skater Tara Lipinski, 15, became the youngest woman to win a gold medal at the Winter Games, and turned pro two months later. The U.S. won the first women's hockey gold medal, while the U.S. men's team—which included pros for the first time—drew ire for its disappointing sixth-place finish and room-trashing antics. The Czech Republic, which (as Czechoslovakia) had won seven Olympic hockey medals, but no golds, was a surprise winner, upsetting Russia 1-0 in the men's hockey final.
Curling and snowboarding also made their Olympic debuts in Nagano.