I was studying abroad in Versailles, France in 1992. Over the course of my time there I got more and more comfortable traveling by train and more familiar with the train system. I had bought a couple Europass's for the year abroad and it made it very easy to get away for the weekend. So one weekend in February I charted an itinerary to get to Albertville to see the Winter Olympics. I was partially familiar with the area because I had visited Chamonix (to see the Alps, not skiing) one weekend the previous November. Since finding a place to stay would be very expensive, I opted for a daytrip. I took an overnight train to get there and an overnight train to get back to Paris. That way I only burned one day on the pass since the travel occured on the same day. So it cost about $50 if I remember right.
I arrived in the morning and people were saying that the only way to get up to the mountains to see some events was to buy a ticket. So I bought a 70 Franc ($14) ticket for the women's downhill in order to be able to get on a bus up to Meribel. I met some other American students on the bus and tagged along to the event. We decided to stay down at the finish because we did not know how long the event lasted, how difficult it would be to climb the run, much less how much we would be able to see higher up the run. It was very confusing to follow the event because we did not have a program and the leader board didn't mention anything other than the current placement. So we didn't know how many competitors were left. In the end, we saw some competitors finish their runs along with the medal ceremony. Kerrin Lee-Gartner of Canada finished first, Hillary Lindh of the US finished second, and Veronika Wallinger of Austria finished third.
After the event, I followed the other Americans for a while more. I remember that since we were students, we could not afford (or were unwilling to buy) the fairly expensive food. I think I ate a can of tuna fish directly out of the can that I had brought with along with a small piece of bread. I ditched the others and strolled around on my own. It was quite an interesting scene. People from many nations showing pride in their country by wearing clothes displaying some form of their flag. But I remember being a bit embarrassed about how many more Americans were dressed like that. It was a bit more 'in your face'. It is possible there were more Americans because there was a US hockey game that day there in Mirabel. I started asking around about tickets but heard the prices were very high. There was not much left to do, so I took the bus back down to Albertville.
In Albertville, there was the stadium where the opening and closing ceremonies took place, the speedskating venue with a jumbotron outside, the figure skating venue, and a Coca-Cola tent. I quickly found out that pins were a big trading item between spectators. You meet someone, you trade pins. And of course, Coke was there selling them. I bought a couple as souvenirs but was not interested in participating in the exchanges. After a while of mulling around, I figured out that other than watching speedskating on the Jumbotron (not know what the heck was going on), there would not be much to do unless I shelled out big bucks for a ticket. I lucked out, extra tickets for the mens figure skating finals would be going on sale soon. So I waited in line and paid more than any other ticket I have ever bought. Even to this day. Good thing I brought the tuna. The ticket was worth it. I was actually able to follow what was going on and I was sitting with a bunch of US TV people (cameramen, audio, etc) who were there for the games. They gave me pins and understood when I didn't have any for them. But as the competition was wrapping up, I realized that I would have to run like mad to catch my train. I watched the medals ceremony from the exit, then dashed for the train. Viktor Petrenko of the Unified Team finished first, Paul Wylie of the US finished second, and Petr Barna of Czechoslovakia finished third. I found out when I got to the station that my train left without me, but luck was on my side, again. There was a special train of only sleeping cars leaving direct to Paris. I paid the little extra and woke up early the next morning back in Paris.
Photo borrowed from Albertville Olympics website
One of the things I realized is that you either need tons of money or some planning to see many of the events. For instance, you need to know where is the best place to see skiers or bobsleds wizz by. You need a program, but then you also need some more recent info to know who is where in the standings at any given moment. Or you need to be able to buy very expensive tickets to have a seat in a venue.
But there is one aspect that doesn't cost a thing. And that's just walking among all these people from different places here to cheer on their countrymen. It was a special kind of vibrancy that was very cool to experience.