Trust in Partners Is Critical Asset in Luge, Bobsled, Skating, Confidence Is Key. POSTCARD FROM ALBERTVILLE

Article excerpt

A WORD that belongs at the Olympics but often is overlooked is "trust."

The word pops to mind with the first sight of the doubles competition of the luge here at the 16th Winter Games. Can there be a clearer example of person-to-person trust in sports than that of two athletes, pressed together on a barely visible sled, hurtling down an icy chute?

In bobsledding, pushers huddle behind drivers entrusted with the team's safety.

Trust is a major factor in pairs skating, where men lift, twirl, or throw their partners high above an unforgiving sheet of ice. For this reporter, a defining moment of these Games came in the pairs event.

While virtually every other pair experienced Olympic jitters (eight of the final 10 couples stumbled or fell at least once), Russians Natalya Mishkutienok and Artur Dmitriev skated a program that was a feast for the eyes - graceful, powerful, and richly textured with choreographic flourishes.

They weren't perfect, but they were so close to it that the crowd sensed a masterpiece in the making, something to place beside such Olympic moments as Torvill and Dean's ice-dancing jewel at the '84 Games, or Brian Boitano's superlative performance in 1988.

By Games' end Sunday, the Russian performance may be but a blip in a series of athletic highlights. It deserves better, and would receive it if the winners were French, American, or otherwise followed by a pack of journalists. Instead, the Olympic champions are only characters in what many consider the bittersweet last hurrah for the former Soviet athletic system. …