In the February Olympic preview issue of SKI, we wrapped ourselves in red, white and blue, predicting that Utah would host a brilliant Winter Games. We vowed that the buses would run on time, that there would be an unrivaled volunteer effort and that security would be tight¿but not oppressive. And we even forecast blue skies. Looking back, it's clear that Utah over-delivered on expectations, particularly with the skiing and snowboarding events. The largely untested downhill and super G tracks at Snowbasin proved to be world class¿and an essential part of the success of these Olympics. The cross-country courses at Soldier Hollow brought a homespun flavor to the Games. TV shots from Park City's Main Street forever dispelled the notion that you can't party in Utah, and the Park City ski resort, along with Deer Valley, hosted first-class events. Meanwhile, the competition was riveting and the story lines worthy of an Olympics, notwithstanding the skating and doping scandals.
The Games were not without irony. The tragedy of Sept. 11 and the slow economy may have actually helped the Games run smoothly by capping attendance, easing congestion and tempering price-gouging. It is also important to point out that while Salt Lake will be forever tainted as the host city that got caught in a bribery scandal, it was merely doing what other Olympic bid cities had done before it. And if Salt Lake hadn't taken those measures, it never would have won the right to host the Olympics. Many Olympic veterans are calling the Salt Lake Games the greatest ever, particularly from a skiing standpoint. Until now, that honor has gone to Lillehammer, Norway, which hosted the unforgettable 1994 Games. Just to be mentioned along with the Norwegians is a worthy accomplishment.
We left the 2002 Games with great memories. Janica Kostelic and Stephan Eberharter getting the medals they truly deserve. Picabo Street climbing into the stands at Snowbasin to bid farewell to her fans. The sweep of the men's halfpipe by three American snowboarders before a rambunctious crowd of 25,000. Joe Pack earning a silver medal in aerials before his hometown crowd. And, of course, Bode Miller, who came back from the dead to win silver in combined and then made history as the first American male to win an Olympic GS medal. That was the 10th medal for U.S. skiers and riders, matching an ambitious goal set some four years ago by U.S. team boss Bill Marolt.
For those fans lucky enough to attend the Games, the most heartfelt memory was probably their last. At the end of each event, a dozen or two of the 25,000 Salt Lake volunteers would line the exits, offering sincere "goodbyes." Regardless of the difficulty of a situation or the number of hours they'd worked, the volunteers never stopped smiling. They made a great impression on the world.