Olympic Games Countdown Begins

Friday, February 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — With a year to go before the 2002 Winter Games, Olympics organizers want to forget about scandals and start having fun.

``We're going to have one great party!'' Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson, fronting a reggae band on electric guitar, told a crowd of about 400 people gathered at a downtown park Thursday to kick off the 365-day countdown to the games.

Never mind that, just two blocks away, former Salt Lake bid leaders Tom Welch and Dave Johnson were in federal court for a hearing in the Olympic bribery case.

``We've just come off a year of crisis, unquestionably the most difficult in the Olympic movement,'' International Olympic Committee marketing director Michael Payne said. ``Here we are, one year out. We're seeing things go very well.''

Games officials seemed confident as they headed into the last year of preparations for the 230,000 visitors expected in Salt Lake from Feb. 8-24.

``I want to let in on a little secret,'' Salt Lake Organizing Committee president Mitt Romney said. ``We've been lowering expectations around the world, keeping expectations down, so that when people come here they're really blown away.''

One of the biggest hurdles, fixing the flawed foundation of the Olympic speedskating oval, has been surmounted, Romney said, and the ice should be ready for next month's World Single Distance Championships, which were in jeopardy of being moved.

Still on the to-do list is the design of a transportation system to get thousands of visitors to venues from Ogden to Park City, some of them on steep roads through narrow canyons. Also on tap is the set up of about $90 million worth of temporary structures at the venues, including tents, food booths and portable toilets, implementation of a computer system to coordinate race results, and training the estimated 47,000 volunteers.

Meanwhile, organizers are planning a three-day rodeo, demonstrations of Navajo culture, cowboy poetry readings and a series of concerts by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as part of the Western-themed events surrounding the games.

Visitors expecting stereotypical cowboys and Indians will be surprised, said Ray Grant, director of the 2002 Cultural Olympiad, which will run in conjunction with the games and include more than 100 performances and exhibitions.

``They expect the myth of the West, but the stories they will hear and the experiences they will have here will be authentic ones,'' Grant said Thursday as he announced the schedule.

Yet at the same time, Romney invoked the resilient spirit of the region's pioneers, saying Salt Lake bounced back from the bribery scandal.

``It was a place that began with jubilation, then dropped into terrific disappointment ... It's a place that uncovered its own scandal,'' he said. ``The American West has been known for regrouping when we fall behind.''

At the evening celebration, he rattled off the Utah stops for the Olympic torch — including regional landmarks like Monument Valley and Zion National Park — as a tongue of flame traced the route across an ice rink. Fireworks followed, to the cheers of the crowd, many of them volunteers huddling against the cold in their new Olympic jackets.

``We're excited,'' said David Bodily of Salt Lake City, who had his 5-year-old grandson, Tyler, on his shoulders and other family members by his side. ``It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.''


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