Originally created 02/25/02

Lines part of olympic legacy



SALT LAKE CITY - What were the 2000 Winter Olympics like? Kind of a wild cross between Disney World and Guantanamo Bay.

There were hundreds of trips of shuttle busses run so efficiently you could set your watch by them. At almost every stop, there was a line, either for security or souvenirs.

Every venue was surrounded by three to five rows of fencing and barricades with guard houses manned 24-7 by soldiers and policemen. Everything was searched, sometimes by hand. The change in your pockets, the zippers on your jackets could set off buzzers.

Periodically, as you viewed events or worked in media centers, bomb-sniffing dogs would go by on patrol.

Sure, there were controversies. When you put thousands of spirited competitors - some in sports that seem to pop up every four years - in a vacuum with some of the best and largest of the world's media that's inevitable.

Actually, it was refreshing that the people who were vilified the most here were figure skating officials, not terrorists. It's also an interesting irony - in the shadow 9-11 - that the biggest call for security in "Mormon Country" was a riot caused by pushing and shoving at a beer garden.

Overwhelmingly, the memories of Salt Lake are wonderful. Here are a few:

  • The Salt Lake skyline surrounded by snow-capped mountains in every direction.
  • Hearing the phrase over and over, "Sir, would you mind turning on your laptop?"
  • At the final skating exhibition, seeing pair skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier and their Russian counterparts Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Siklharulidze, the center of these Olympics' greatest brouhaha, joining hands in a four-way death spiral.
  • Sheer joy and sheer shock of 16-year-old Sarah Hughes winning the gold medal in figure skating.
  • Seeing the dream story just about everybody wanted to happen really happen - Jim Shea Jr. taking gold in skeleton. And just as his sled crossed the finish line, the scene of Shea fumbling in his helmet to get the funeral card of his grandfather to display to all is unforgettable.
  • The contrast of giddy Gen-Xer Tristan Gale and 33-year-old cool American counterpart Lea Ann Parsley, a firefighter with three degrees, celebrating a 1-2 finish in skeleton.
  • Scalpers trying to sell free tickets to medals ceremonies - and getting the prices.
  • The thousands of volunteers, many of whom worked six days a week, 8 to 12 hours a day without pay - and they always had a smile on their face and a friendly word.
  • Seeing young people of many ethnic groups and races on the medals stand for the U.S.
  • The teen-aged enthusiasm of 39-year-old bobsledder Brian Shimer ending a 17-year career with an Olympic medal.
  • Sure, these Games had scars. But at virtually every turn, when the focus was entirely on the athletes and their spirit and their dedication, the result was heartwarming and inspiring.

    As the fireworks peppered the Wasatch Mountains at Sunday's closing ceremonies, dedicated athletes tossed aside months of stress and had fun.

    A perfect finish.