IOC Meetings Open in Salt Lake City

Friday, February 1st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ It's cold and snowy. Skiers, skaters and other athletes are checking in. And on Friday, Salt Lake City's long-awaited Olympic month begins.

As with almost everything else in the United States for the last 4 1/2 months, security is in the spotlight.

A week before the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, the IOC and its new president, Jacques Rogge, open their annual meetings with a session of the executive board.

No gigantic issues are on the table. Rogge, elected last July to the most powerful job in international sports, is getting his first chance to convene the full 123 members of the International Olympic Committee.

But in a country waging a war on terrorism and in a city where the IOC picked up its most embarrassing stain, the meetings and the games that follow give Rogge a closely watched stage on which to display his style and substance.

He said Thursday there was no reason not to aim high.

``I think the organizing is OK. I think the security arrangements might be the best ever,'' Rogge said. ``And if the weather cooperates, these could well be the best games. ... It's definitely coming all together.''

Added Salt Lake Olympic Committee president Mitt Romney: ``We feel we're ready to go.''

The National Weather Service expects a strong storm to move through northern Utah beginning the morning of the opening ceremony. Already, the Wasatch Mountains are a backdrop of white powder, and the whole area is numbed by single-digit cold.

By late Thursday, more than 700 athletes and team officials had checked into the Olympic Village at the University of Utah. More than 3,500 athletes, coaches and team members are expected there when the games begin.

At the neighboring hotels where the IOC will conduct its business, concrete barriers created a security island in the middle of Utah's capital city. They were enhanced Thursday with tall wire-mesh fences, and soldiers with automatic weapons patrolled Olympic venues nearby.

Because of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, security for the Winter Games has been raised to unprecedented levels, with a budget boosted to $310 million.

Rogge and other Olympic officials have said repeatedly that they are sure the games will be safe. Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge have paid inspection visits, and fine-tuning of the security plan goes on.

Organizers of the next Olympics, in Athens in 2004, are expected to be questioned about the latest visit by the IOC's coordination commission, which found that work was still behind schedule. Athens organizers have been criticized by the IOC for wasting years of planning and building.

Marketing, including the possible signing of a handful of worldwide sponsors for the next set of games, will be a focus, along with a perennial trouble spot _ drugs.

While Rogge says hopes for a drug-free games are unrealistic, the IOC has instituted tough new tests for doping, including blood screening for endurance athletes the day they compete.