February 7, 1998, was a sunny, if slightly hazy day in the city of Nagano. That morning, 50,000 spectators and 2,176 athletes representing 72 nations crowded the Minami-Nagano Sports Park to see Emperor Akihito open the 18th Olympic Winter Games and watch an opening ceremony filled with traditional performances by sumo wrestlers and festival groups.

In the run-up to the games, the winter had been unseasonably warm and for much of the previous two months, officials had feared a snowless Olympics. So worried were the organizing committee, that the army had been drafted to create contingency plans, including laying tatami mats across the melting cross-country course to shade it from the sun. Fortunately, two weeks prior to the opening ceremony, disaster was prevented when a storm moved across the Sea of Japan and delivered a healthy layer of snow across the prefecture.

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