|Competition type||Olympic Games|
|Opening ceremony||8 February|
|Closing ceremony||24 February|
|Competition dates||9 – 24 February|
|OCOG||Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games of 2002|
|Participants||2399 from 77 countries|
|Medal events||78 in 15 disciplines|
The roller coaster saga of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games began when Salt Lake City was selected as the host city at the 1995 IOC Session. Salt Lake City had bid for 1998 but lost out to Nagano, and its 2002 bid was so strong that the IOC needed only one round of voting to award the Utah city the bid, almost by acclamation. It was the first high for the city with Mormon ties, but the bottom of the coaster loomed ahead.
Over the next few years Salt Lake City Organizing Committee did its work with few problems. The stock market was booming and sponsorship money flowed into the Committee. But on 24 November 1998, Salt Lake City television station KTVX reported that the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee (SLOC) had been paying for Sonia Essomba, daughter of an IOC Member, to attend American University in Washington. Things were no longer well with the 19th Olympic Winter Games.
That report led to the Olympic Scandal of 1999, which led to many reforms within the IOC and among its members. But Salt Lake City was implicated as being responsible, as their Bid Committee was shown to have showered IOC Members with their largesse, much of it, if not in contravention of IOC rules, at least pushing the envelope of those rules. The Bid Committee members noted that they were playing the same Games as other bid cities – that they had done nothing that the other candidates had not done. But the damage was real.
Bid Committee kingpins Tom Welch and Dave Johnson had moved into leadership positions within the Organizing Committee but were forced to withdraw, and eventually the Federal Department of Justice brought indictments against both men. The indictments were later thrown out by a judge, but an appeal is ongoing. The man who replaced Welch as President and CEO of the Organizing Committee was Frank Joklik, but when it was revealed that he had had close affiliations with the Bid Committee, he was tainted by association, and resigned of his own accord.
The Olympic Winter Games were only two years away and without leadership. Worse still was that several sponsors were making noises about withdrawing financial support, threatening a fiscal disaster. And as the stock market in 1999-2000 began to fall from its raging bull status, new money to support the Salt Lake Olympics was not easily found. The Salt Lake City Organizing Committee reached out to Mitt Romney as their new chief. Romney was the son of George Romney, a former US Presidential candidate, and he was a financial wizard, having made a fortune as the leader of Bain Capital, a venture capital firm. He quickly righted the ship and all seemed well again on the banks of the Great Salt Lake.
Then on 11 September 2001, a scant five months before the Opening Ceremony, Arab terrorists savagely and cowardly attacked American soil, hijacking four airplanes and crashing two of them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and another into the Pentagon. A fourth plane was also being aimed at Washington, but the American passengers, aware of the circumstances of that Tuesday morning, courageously assaulted the terrorist pilots and the plane crashed into a deserted Pennsylvania meadow, killing all aboard, but likely saving many lives.
The United States responded by announcing a war on terrorism and within weeks was waging war on Arab terrorists and the Al-Qaeda organization in Afghanistan. A larger war seemed imminent. Now the question was not if Salt Lake City could fund Olympic Games in February 2002, but whether there would be any Games at all. Security concerns would have to be ramped up an order of magnitude. But federal security forces, which were to be used at the Winter Olympics, could be diverted to fight the war, and it was not known if they would be available for the Olympics. And if the United States waged a full-out war, would other nations attend peaceful Olympic Games? Remember, the United States had boycotted the Moscow 1980 Olympics specifically because they thought it was wrong to attend Olympic Games while the host nation was fighting a war.
But somehow, the 2002 Olympic Winter Games were held, and they were Olympic Games to remember. Mitt Romney and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) overcame all the obstacles. Security was tight, but not much more intrusive than that which was seen at Sydney. The American public embraced the Winter Olympics as “our” Games, a chance to heal somewhat from the assault on our shores. The Europeans, often critical of American Olympic Games, made a few by now standard grumblings about too much coverage of American athletes, but much less so than at Los Angeles in 1984. And there were none of the organizational problems of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. The weather cooperated as well, with plenty of snow before the Games, but clear, cold weather in the first week, and then almost spring-like conditions in the second week.
The biggest news of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games was the controversy surrounding the pairs figure skating event. On the night of the free skate, the leaders were the Russians, Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, with the Canadian pair, Jamie Salé and David Pelletier, close behind in second. Whoever won the free skate would win the gold medal, and to the audience, and many figure skating experts, that appeared to be the Canadians, who skated cleanly while the Russians had made several errors. But the judges voted 5-4 in favor of the Russians, giving them the gold medal. The audience and media howled in protest, and within 24 hours rumors of vote-fixing were rampant, focusing on the French skating judge, Marie Reine LeGougne. Eventually, IOC President Jacques Rogge ordered the International Skating Union (ISU) to hold emergency meetings to investigate the rumors. Within 3 days, the ISU and IOC announced that the two pairs would be considered co-champions and Salé and Pelletier were given gold medals. The controversy reached even further, calling for a complete overhaul of figure skating judging. As of mid-2003, it is far from ended.
The two biggest medal winners at Salt Lake City received them in seeming obscurity, as the American media focused on the figure skating furor. Ole Einar Bjørndalen of Norway won four gold medals in the four biathlon events, sweeping the competition. In women’s alpine skiing, Croatia’s Janica Kostelić won three gold medals and four medals in all. She became the first Olympic alpine skier to win four medals at one Games.
The other big story from Salt Lake City was the return of Canadian prominence in their national sport – ice hockey. Canada’s men had not won the Olympic gold since 1952, after dominating the sport for the first 30 years of Olympic competition. The Olympic ice hockey event had most of the world’s top pros, as NHL players competed, and the level of competition was supreme, highlighted by two games between the United States and Russia. In the first, the two powers played to a 2-2 tie, but in the quarter-finals, the US barely won, 3-2. In the final, the United States faced Canada, and a similar close match was expected, but Canada prevailed rather easily, 5-2. Canada’s women added to the story, also facing the United States in the distaff final. In 1998, the US had defeated the Canadian women, but at Salt Lake City, the Canadian women defeated the US 3-2 for the gold medal.
In the end, after two glorious weeks in the Utah Mountains, the Olympic Scandal and the tragedy of 9/11 seemed distant afterthoughts. If anything could help Americans forget that tragic September morn, it was the 19th Olympic Winter Games.
Bid voting at the 104th IOC Session in Budapest on 16 June 1995. Because of the proliferation of cities bidding to host the Olympic Winter Games, an Evaluation Commission of the IOC was formed which pared the 10 candidate cities to a final four, which were voted upon by the full IOC Session. The eliminated cities were: Almaty (Kazakhstan), Poprad-Tatry (Slovakia), Jaca (Spain), Sochi (Russia), Graz (Austria) and Tarvisio (Italy).
|Salt Lake City, Utah||United States||54|
|Officially opened by||George W. Bush (President)|
|Torchbearer(s)||Mike Eruzione (Lit flame), Bill Baker (Lit flame), Neal Broten (Lit flame), Dave Christian (Lit flame), Steve Christoff (Lit flame), Jim Craig (Lit flame), John Harrington (Lit flame), Mark Johnson (Lit flame), Rob McClanahan (Lit flame), Ken Morrow (Lit flame), Jack O'Callahan (Lit flame), Mark Pavelich (Lit flame), Mike Ramsey (Lit flame), Buzz Schneider (Lit flame), Dave Silk (Lit flame), Eric Strobel (Lit flame), Rob Suter (Lit flame), Phil Verchota (Lit flame), Mark Wells (Lit flame), Picabo Street, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Cammi Granato, Bonnie Blair, Bill Johnson, Phil Mahre, Jim Shea, Dick Button, Scott Hamilton, Dan Jansen|
|Taker of the Athlete's Oath||Jim Shea, Jr.|
|Taker of the Official's Oath||Allen Church (Cross Country Skiing)|
|Olympic Flag Bearers||Jean-Claude Killy, Steven Spielberg, Jean-Michel Cousteau, John Glenn, Lech Wałęsa, Desmond Tutu, Kazuyoshi Funaki, Cathy Freeman|
|Alpine Skiing||Figure Skating||Short Track Speed Skating|
|Bobsleigh||Ice Hockey||Ski Jumping|
|Cross Country Skiing||Luge||Snowboarding|
|Curling||Nordic Combined||Speed Skating|
|People's Republic of China||CHN||2||2||4||8|
|Republic of Korea||KOR||2||2||0||4|
|Ole Einar Bjørndalen||NOR||4||0||0||4|
|Yang Yang (A)||CHN||2||1||0||3|
|Kjetil André Aamodt||NOR||2||0||0||2|