It's a gut-check time for those Olympic hopefuls, whose reach for medals this time around just might exceed their competitive grasp.

With its cowboy roots and raucous frontier tradition, Calgary (pop. 640,000), in the shadow of the Canadian Rockies, has always been a great party town. Each summer the city hosts the Calgary Stampede-a 10-day orgy of hell-raising and rodeo. By the time the 16-day Olympic blowout begins this Saturday (Feb. 13), the Stampede may look like a garden party. Close to 200, 000 visitors are expected, some $1 billion will be pumped into the economy. For the U.S., the Winter Games could be an exercise in frustration; America's team is given only a long-shot chance for medals in most events. Still, as the 1980 U.S. hockey team proved, miracles do happen. Herewith, then, a look at some of our best hopes-and at some foreign competitors too exotic to ignore.

As he weaves his '84 Camaro through the streets of San Francisco, Brian Boitano, 24, four-time U.S. figure-skating champion, pictures the magic moment: "I'm taking my bows," he says. "Everyone is cheering and I feel great, really proud. Yeah," he adds with a smile, "I dream of the gold." In his case it's more than a dream. "His competition will be incredible," says Dorothy Hamill, "but Brian is the best skater in the world today."

Boitano's promise was evident early. Growing up in Sunnyvale, Calif., he would, at age 8, amaze his friends and terrify his parents with his death-defying roller-skate stunts. Fearing for his safety, and hoping he would learn some discipline, dad Lew, a banker, and mom Donna, a housewife, sent him to a local ice-skating rink for lessons. Linda Leaver, his first teacher and still his coach, remembers that auspicious day. "In the first half hour," she says, "he learned five different jumps."

Boitano won 17 regional medals by the time he was 12. He finished fifth at Sarajevo in 1984 but captured the world championship two years later. Then, last year, he was runner-up to Brian Orser, his archrival from Canada. One big reason for his failure: a bold and breakneck maneuver known as the quadruple toe loop-a jump requiring four full revolutions in the air-which had only once before been tried in competition. Although he routinely nails it in practice, Brian went for the quad and fell. Don't expect to see the jump at Calgary. "I sacrificed my world title for it," says Brian. I won't sacrifice an Olympic medal."

As skaters the two Brians are radically different. Boitano, 5'111 and 158 lbs., is a technically perfect power-skater; Orser, 5'4", 135 lbs., has a quick, light style. "The judges are going to have to choose from two sides of a coin," says Boitano. He and Orser, who is favored to win, have remained cautious friends despite their rivalry. "We both want the same thing, so it's hard to go out and mingle," explains Boitano. "But no matter who wins, when it's over we'll be able to set everything aside and have fun."

To win, Boitano must be flawless, and one former champion is predicting he will be. "He'll have to give the performance of his life," says Hamill. "But I think he'll do it."

"Boitano's confident, not cocky," says a friend.