The games also provided anecdotes to somewhat smile about

Feb 13 2012 - 4:16pm

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Ten years.

Has it really been a decade since the world -- at least the part of it that could afford to spring for $800-a-night hotel rooms and figure skating tickets at $1,200 a pop -- was welcome here?

Why, way back in the mid-'90s, when Salt Lake City purchased the 2002 Winter Games from the International Olympic Committee for an undisclosed amount of cash, merchandise and various services (plastic surgery, anyone?), who could have possibly predicted the lasting impact hosting an Olympic competition would have on our fair state?

Indeed, most experts agree that putting on the Olympics changed the unfair perception of Utah's winter-sports industry from that of "Colorado's poor stepsister" to that of "Colorado's poor stepsister with one of those really cool ski-jumping hills. And a bobsled run. And a couple of fancy-schmancy ice rinks."

But other than leftover venues, the only tangible reminder of the 2002 Winter Olympics these days is that, a few times each winter, I'll see someone wearing one of those official volunteer ski jackets and think, "Ooh, I wonder if that's the guy Mitt Romney dropped the F-bomb on?"

When you think about it, this idea that folks are still wearing their volunteer jackets 10 years after the fact is actually quite a relief. Because it could have been much, much worse. I mean, we could still have everyone trying to rock those ridiculous-looking Roots berets, thus giving our state the sad appearance of a Monica Lewinsky lookalike competition.

Although there were plenty of bright, shining moments at the 2002 Olympics, the games also had their share of epic failures. Indeed, the absolute worst journalistic decision ever made -- eclipsing even Katie Couric anchoring the evening news -- may very well have come out of the 2002 games.

See, when the Winter Olympics came to town, the Standard-Examiner -- as with most other local news outlets -- was given a limited number of media credentials to cover the games. And what did the Standard-Examiner do with two of those precious golden tickets? Wasted them on editorial cartoonist Calvin Grondahl and humor columnist Mark Saal, in a vain attempt to get them to actually "cover" the Olympics.

In the inaugural column for the games, we wrote:

Let's call it, "Calvin and Saal's Excellent Adventure." Or, perhaps a more accurate description for you folks at home, "Calvin and Saal Went to the Olympics, and All I Got was This Stupid Cartoon and Column."

That's right, for 17 straight days -- that's two weeks and change, people -- Calvin and I wrote sophomoric column after sophomoric column, and drew immature cartoon after immature cartoon, until readers were literally crying "Uncle!" Or, in the case of members of the dominating Austrian ski team, "Onkel!"

Still, Calvin and I did manage to chronicle a few memorable moments. Who can forget:

* The Olympic Torch Relay. Utah opted to go with the slowest runners on the planet for the torch relay, resulting in Utah Transit Authority-like delays in seeing the Greek fire pass through various Top of Utah cities.

* Bowling on ice. Ogden's moment in the Olympic sun was the fast-paced curling events at The Ice Sheet. Ah, curling. The event that even an in-the-know Norwegian sportswriter covering the games for the evening Oslo paper likened to "watching paint dry."

* Olympian-sized egos. Utah Jazz basketball superstar Karl Malone and American speedskater Eric Heiden both declined to participate in the torch relay, unless they could play a major role. They weren't missed.

* Pinheads. Those Olympic pin collectors were EVERYWHERE. And the thing is, these people somehow manage to make "Star Wars" re-enactors look cool.

* He shoots, he scores! Olympic organizers provided 12,000 free condoms to 2,400 athletes at the Olympic Village. Quickly doing the math, that pairs off to 1,200 athlete couples, or 10 condoms per couple. For 17 days. Man, where did they find the time to compete?

* The opening and closing ceremonies. These events are always like some sort of bad acid trip, with odd costumes and weird music and nutty choreography. Strangest moment of the 2002 ceremonies: A stadium full of spectators dons white paper ponchos and sings "She'll be Comin' 'Round the Mountain (When She Comes)." Close second: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir doing the wave.

Any of this bringing back memories? Well, as a special treat for those of you with access to a computer and something called "the Internet," the Standard-Examiner has posted some of the original cartoons and columns from what in many circles has become known simply as "Calvin and Saal's 17 Days of Shameful Behavior." Only a handful of these Grondahl/Saal creations survive to this day; most were lost in the Great "What-On-Earth-Were-We-Thinking?" Archive Purge of 2003.

To access these original cartoons and columns from 2002, go to www.standard.net/slideshows and click on the link:"Mark Saal and Cal Grondahl's 2002 Olympic Columns."

Just keep in mind that this stuff is 10 years old. Reading it now will be a little like watching paint dry.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or msaal@standard.net.

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