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The 18th Olympic Winter Games: Nagano 1998

Last modified: 2023-06-10 by zachary harden
Keywords: nagano | winter olympics | olympic games |
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[Flag for Nagano Olympics 1998] image by Zachary Harden, 30 August 2017

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Nagano, Japan, 1998
Twenty-six years after the Sapporo Games the Winter Olympics returned to Japan. The most memorable aspect of the Nagano Games was arguably the weather, which brought heavy snow and periods of freezing rain. There was even an earthquake. The Alpine skiing competition was most affected by the heavy snows that caused several events to be rescheduled. The earthquake, which occurred on February 20, was of moderate magnitude and was felt throughout the city and in the smaller towns that served as sports venues. Despite these obstacles, the Games were praised for their organization and efficiency. Many also praised Nagano for tempering the influence of corporate sponsors that was so intrusive at the Atlanta Summer Games.
A record number of National Olympic Committees (72) and athletes (2,177) participated in the Nagano Games. Among the nations attending were Bosnia and Herzegovina and Yugoslavia, which were embroiled in a war. In accordance with a United Nations resolution, both nations honoured a cease-fire for the duration of the Games. Two new sports, curling and snowboarding, were added to the winter program. Snowboarding made a somewhat ignominious debut when Canadian Ross Rebagliati, the sport's first Olympic gold medalist, tested positive for marijuana use; he was promptly disqualified. A day later the decision was overturned on appeal and Rebagliati was able to keep his medal.
The Winter program was also expanded to include a women's ice hockey tournament, which was won by the United States. The Czech Republic team, inspired by the play of goalie Dominik Hasek, was the surprise winner of the men's tournament. In speed skating The Netherlands returned to prominence. Dutch skaters, led by Gianni Romme and Marianne Timmer, collected five gold medals, four silver, and two bronze. Victories by youngsters Ilia Kulik and Tara Lipinski in the singles figure skating events came as mild surprises.
Hermann Maier of Austria was the star of the Alpine skiing competition. After a frightening tumble down the mountainside in the downhill event, the daring Austrian returned to the slopes to capture the gold in both the super giant slalom and the giant slalom. The women's competition starred German sensation Katja Seizinger, who won the downhill and Alpine combined events. American skier Picabo Street, a former World Cup champion who had been struggling to overcome a series of injuries, was the unexpected winner of the super giant slalom. In Nordic skiing, Bjørn Daehlie of Norway further strengthened his claim to being the greatest cross-country skier ever. The Norwegian skied to gold medals in the 10-km event and the 4 10-km relay and a silver in the 15-km event, bringing his Olympic career totals to eight gold medals and four silver. Also laying claim to the "best ever" title in his sport was German luger Georg Hackl, who won an unprecedented third consecutive gold me!
dal in the singles event.
While Germany took home more medals (29) than any other nation, the host country, Japan, enjoyed its best showing in the Winter Olympics, earning 10 medals. Ski jumper Kazuyoshi Funaki soared to the gold medal on the 120-metre hill and a silver on the 90-metre hill and led a dramatic victory in the team ski jumping event. Hiroyasu Shimizu took home the gold medal in the 500-metre speed skating event and the bronze in the 100-metre. Japan's only female gold medalist was freestyle skier Tae Satoya, who won the moguls competition.
Joe McMillan, 30 August 2000

The XVIII Olympic Winter Games was held between 07 to 22 February 1998 in Nagano, Japan. 72 nations and more than 2 thousand participants contested in seven sports and 72 events at 15 venues. The Games saw the introduction of women's ice hockey, curling and snowboarding.
The host city was selected in 1991. Other candidates were: Salt Lake City, Östersund, Jaca and Aosta.
They were the third Olympic Games and second winter Olympics to be held in Japan. The games were followed by the 1998 Winter Paralympics from 05 to 14 March.
Zoltan Horvath, 13 December 2013

The Flag

Its flag was white with its logo, consists of its emblem, then name of the city and year are placed under the emblem, and Olympic rings complete the full logo. The emblem represents a flower, with each petal representing an athlete practicing a different winter sport. It can also be seen as a snowflake, thus the name "Snowflower" was given to it.
Image of flag:
Zoltan Horvath, 13 December 2013

The IOC website has a similar, but longer description. Maybe this is how it was worded for the press?
I can't find it anywhere, but the Official Report gives the pictograms,  and though they are not exactly the same, they are similar. From that I  would hazard this guess:

Yellow - Speed skating
Red - Snow Boarding
Purple - Figure skating
Blue - Down Hill
Orange - Short Track
Green - Ski Jump

In the Official Report is a photograph showing hand-wavers, with a blank  reverse. And, yes, also two photographs showing the actual, horizontal  flag. Our graphic is quite close, but it appears there's something written in a small print below the emblem, which I can't make out.
The Official Report also has photographs regarding:
- a flag bearing the well-known image of the snowlets;
- people waving bid flag wavers, with blank reverse;
- two actual bid flags, also too small to see details, but the design appears to be the emblem that's also visible on pins etc.;
- JOC flags, which we'll probably see more of now that Tokyo has been selected as the host for 2020.
Also a quote from the Official Report:
Stricken with an incurable disease, a former official of the Sapporo  municipal government asked from his sickbed that an Olympic flag made  for the Sapporo Games be flown in Nagano. The flag, which was never used during the Sapporo Games, had been in his keeping for 26 years, and the request came from his family through NAOCís Internet site. As the flag differed somewhat from modern day specifications, NAOC requested and obtained special permission from the IOC to fly the flag at Central Square. With this gesture, the spirit of the Sapporo Games was reborn in Nagano.
A photograph is included, where the flag indeed looks somewhat  different, though I can't say whether it's a matter of lighting or of a visible difference.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 16 January 2014

For the emblem, officially called the Snowflower, not much information was provided by the Official Report (referenced by Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg above) like in the 1964 Tokyo and 1972 Sapporo reports but with some help of Google I was able to fill the gaps. The designer of the emblem, Masanori Shinozuka of the Tokyo branch of Landor Associates International, Ltd., was selected out of 1000 entries from 100 designers in an international competition. In a 2012 interview, Shinozuka stated at that he wanted to create a design a global image that did not focus too much on Japan, thus not including the Hinomaru (like what was used in 1964 Tokyo and 1972 Sapporo) but it was still perceived as a Japanese design by most of the world. The symbolism, according to Shinozuka, was "a snowflake to represent the Winter Olympics, a ring of people, and a flower blooming on snow. The flower has six petals to represent the hexagonal shape of snowflakes, and each petal is shaped like an athlete practicing a different sport to form a ring. The colors are four of the Olympic colors, excluding black, joined by purple to represent Japan and orange as the color of Nagano prefecture." According to the Official Report of the Games, the emblem is described also as "a flowering alpine plant, underlining Naganoís emphasis on environmental considerations in staging the Games. The energy focus in the centre symbolizes the passion of people from gathering in Nagano and the drama of the Olympic Games to be shared with the world." (pg. 98) The emblem was officially revealed on January 26, 1993.

As for the figures inside the logo, Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg hypothesized about what sports matched with what image. The Washington Post (USA) also guessed what the emblems mean as well at snowboarding (red), figure skating (purple), Alpine skiing (blue), cross-country skiing (orange), ski jumping (green) and speed-skating (gold). For reference, the pictograms for these games can be seen at

For the flag image, I used a vector image from the Official Report and centered it on a white background (our current image was off center).
Zachary Harden, 30 August 2017