Friday , March 28, 2014 - 12:06 PM
Thirteen years ago tens of thousands of Utahns began preparation for an event that would bring the world to their proud state. Preliminary work had begun on venues but now the actual work to hold the event moved forward. There were 30.000 volunteers to be identified, classified by skills and availability, trained and coordinated with the venue requirements; security would require 6000 people. It was a massive task but the people of Utah were more than eager to be part of the 2002 International Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
The Olympics was a bipartisan effort; Republican dominated Utah worked with predominately Democrat Salt Lake City to secure the bid for 2002; and volunteers, vendors, and contractors alike put aside their political leanings. The Olympics was an opportunity for the people and the state of Utah to present their best image to the world and to those who came as spectators and participants. Despite some unsavory financial turmoil early on, the Olympics would go on to become one of the best organized and most successful events thanks in large part to guidance from Mitt Romney and the Salt Lake Olympics Committee.
But the Olympics are much more than just a monumental task of organizational performance although this is critical to the outcome. From the moment the announcement was made that Salt Lake City had would be the host city, people in Utah felt elevated knowing that they would be on the “world stage." And with typical “pioneer spirit” they determined to produce the best ever Olympics and make 2002 a year to remember.
February of 2002 was just five months after September 11 when the World Trade Center Twin Towers were destroyed by terrorists; America had come to grips with this heinous act of terrorism. The pain of 9-11 would be ameliorated to some degree by a successful, peaceful, international competition held in a beautiful alpine setting, the Wasatch Mountains of Utah were the perfect place.
Prior to the February start date the Olympics torch began its journey from Greece and traveled around the world and across the USA. Many Americans would have the opportunity to carry the special torch through cities, forests, swamps, deserts and Main Street America. In Utah hundreds of torch carriers traveled the entire state from deserts to mountain peaks finally arriving in Salt Lake City, greeted by thousands of welcoming eager enthusiasts.
Weeks before the start date final training was completed volunteers were given official 2002 Winter Olympics parkas in green, blue, red, and yellow depending on their work assignments. They would perform tasks that ranged from grooming trails to wanding spectators; from dispensing first aid and information to chauffeuring dignitaries; from cleaning the facilities to coordinating events. And there was a definite “can-do” spirit instilled in all who helped. The world was watching and Utahns were responding to the challenge.
Volunteers who worked the Opening and Closing ceremonies at Rice Eccles Stadium were able to witness some of the entertainment extravaganza on the floor of the stadium. Thousands of athletes from countries around the globe proudly paraded through the stadium in their unique uniforms and carried their country’s flags for all to see. But the flag that caused the entire assembled spectators and athletes to gasp was the tattered and shredded American Stars and Stripes that had flown at the Twin Towers on 911. President George W. Bush saluted the flag, so did Utah Governor Leavitt, Olympic President Mitt Romney and Americans who witnessed this special moment. This was a triumphal moment, one in which a determined army of volunteers vowed to make this Olympics a safe and rewarding experience.
Everyone who participated, whether as a contestant, a host or volunteer was gratified that there were no terrorist incidents and that the 2002 Winter Olympics were as good as it gets. Their names were enshrined on Salt Lake City’s “Wall of Fame” in appreciation of a job well done.
John W. Reynolds lives in Pleasant View. The author participated as a volunteer in the 2002 Winter Olympics serving at Snow Basin as well as the Opening and Closing Ceremonies at Rice Stadium.
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