Salt Lake 2002 basks in praise; U.S. athletes surpass expectations at


Forde Files Salt Lake 2002

By Tina Fisher Forde/Special to The Malibu Times

The Salt Lake 2002 organizers did not waste any time in dismantling the trappings of their enormously successful Olympic Games. On the media bus on the way back from the closing ceremony Sunday, I saw workmen with a blowtorch cutting down the concrete and chain-link barriers that have sectioned off the downtown area for a month. Everywhere the dismantling process had started.

When we arrived back at the Main Media Center, I ran toward the entrance tent so as not to get stuck at the back of a long security check line.

I stopped, confused. The checkpoint was not there.

“No mag and bag anymore,” said one cheerful volunteer. After being subjected to thorough searches four or five times a day, it was a shock to enter the Salt Palace convention center with only a cursory credential check.

The organizers had timed the end of the Games to the second, as they had timed everything else.

Salt Lake City 2002 will go down in Olympic annals as a well-planned, well-run and enormously successful accomplishment. With the messy specter of Atlanta 2000 hovering, Salt Lake City organizers (SLOC) had a lot to prove, and they did it.

“Logistics champions,” a journalist from Hamburg, Germany, said of local organizers.

That’s something, coming from a German.

The only Salt Lake transportation problem came the first day of competition, at the Downhill at Snowbasin. The traffic was so bad that some media buses arrived too late for the event. On that occasion, SLOC president Mitt Romney got out and personally directed traffic near the venue.

The big winners are the Mormons, who kept religion off the table but showed they can “produce.”

The quality of the planning was evident in the minutiae. As an example, spectators at all venues were asked not to use flash when taking pictures, to protect the competitors from distraction. When they are turned off, sometimes those flashes still go off. At the bobsleigh run, instead of arguing with spectators about it, the volunteers had little strips of black electrical tape stuck to their credentials, which they would use to tape over flash windows

Praising local organizers, U.S. Olympic Committee President Sandy Baldwin said people from all over the world had told her, “These are absolutely as good as Games can get.”

Police clear Main Street

The only wild card for locals was the incalculable impact the Games have had on a conservative and youth-heavy state. SLOC became a victim of its own success in luring families and young people downtown, when at 1:30 a.m. on Sunday police told revelers on Main Street-angered at the closing of a beer tent-to disperse. Police resorted to firing projectiles-rubber bullets, little pods of water or both. I encountered two young men who had seen everyone and had taken digital photos, one of which showed a nasty, bloody wound and the target holding the projectile.

Squads of seriously armored riot police cruised the downtown area. By daylight, all traces of disturbance-trash and broken glass-were gone.

A New York native friend of mine, an employee of the Associated Press who was working the Games, was not impressed with the terminology.

“In Salt Lake it’s a riot,” he said. “In New York it’s morning rush hour.”

Local youngsters have been pumped up by the international excitement and the great bands booked every day at downtown Olympic Square for the medal ceremonies.

“Utah has never been exposed to such diversity as it has in the last 17 days,” observed one of the young men to whom I spoke, Tom Ta .

Calgary results spur team development

The United States’ medal haul of 34 far exceeds the predictions of 20 by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). Germany, with the majority of its young athletes coming from the sport-oriented former East Germany, won 35.

Mighty-might powerhouse Norway won 24, Canada 17, Austria 16. A rather disorganized and disaffected, but unbowed Russia won 15.

USOC President Baldwin credited an athlete development plan following an embarrassing total of six medals at Calgary in 1988 for the excellent U.S. results. Central to the plan is an emphasis on being a team-the athletes personally know and encourage each other.

“The U.S. Olympic Committee really made a plan,” she said. “We worked on it for seven years. This is not serendipity.”

My favorite personal image of the Games is from the women’s gold medal hockey game, Canada vs. the U.S.

With goalkeeper Kim St. Pierre out of position and a scramble developing in front of the net, Canadian forward No. 13, Caroline Ouellette, threw herself on the ice inside the net and on the goal line, curved to catch the puck, defending this netted cave-the Canadian goal-with her life. And with her face. I knew then that the Canadian women were marching toward victory.

My pal Francois Lemenu, who covered the Games for the French-language Presse Canadienne agency, said one of the Canadian women told him the U.S. women had a Canadian flag on the floor of their dressing room. That knowledge really fired up the Canadians.

At the press conference after the women’s gold medal game, St. Pierre said of the U.S. women, “They came out tentatively. We could see the fear in their eyes.”

Told of this statement, U.S. women’s coach Ben Smith literally choked on his bottled water and said, “She’s a great hockey player, but she’s no optometrist.”

The final score was Canada 3, U.S. 2.

Bobsledder Brian Shimer, who competed in Nagano in his fourth Olympic medal try and came within .02 seconds of medalling and breaking a long bobsled medal drought for the United States, finally did it this time.

Shimer, 39, of Naples, Fla. stayed with it to medal in his fifth Olympic effort. The U.S. Bobsled Federation recruited fresh athletes, giving him some competition and a challenge. On Saturday, Shimer’s U.S. 2 sled, in the last of four slides-the last and perhaps best of his career-flew down the bob run with the fastest time of the heat, edging Switzerland 1 for the bronze medal.

“That was some magnificent driving,” said Bobsled Federation Executive Director Matt Roy.

Pandemonium ensued. For Shimer, it was as good as gold.

In recognition of his years of Olympic dedication, Shimer was selected to carry the U.S. flag in the closing ceremony. He is engaged, by the way, to ice dancer Sophia Eliazova, an American born in Russia.

U.S. 1, crewed by black/minority athletes in three of the four seats and piloted by Todd Hays, won the silver behind Germany and the distinction of providing the first black male athletes to medal in the Winter Games. Vonetta Flowers of Birmingham, Ala. became the first black female gold medallist several days prior in the two-person bobsled.

Mexican-American Derek Parra, from San Bernardino, added to the American team diversity with his gold and silver medals in speedskating.