In the months leading up to the Sochi Olympics, there were several stories in the mainstream media looking back at previous Olympic host cities, including Salt Lake City. And Salt Lake often got high marks in those stories for creating a network of sports venues that continues to attract athletes 12 years down the road.
It didn't happen by accident.
In 1988, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) adopted a policy, when choosing the next American bid city, to consider each city's ability to create "legacy" athletic venues. In other words, to choose a bid city that is willing to begin developing venues before the International Olympic Committee makes its final choice and that is willing to keep managing those venues long after the Closing Ceremony.
Sounds like the script that Salt Lake City has followed, doesn't it?
The back story, as told by Tom Kelly in this issue of The Park Record, is that the "legacy" policy was originally pitched to the USOC by Howard Peterson, then the executive director of the U.S. Ski Team and the United States Ski Association (USSA). According to Kelly, who is now the vice president of communications for USSA, the USOC changed the direction of its bid process based on Peterson's presentation.
The USOC, of course, chose Salt Lake City as the American bid city and Salt Lake began building facilities, including what is now the Utah Olympic Park, long before the IOC made its choice of the 2002 Olympic host city. How much Salt Lake's "legacy" building program influenced the IOC is hard to say. But it certainly didn't hurt.
Peterson left the USSA in 1994 and went on to help create the Soldier Hollow Legacy Foundation in 1999. For the past 15 years he has served as the foundation's executive director, turning that 2002 Olympic cross-country venue into one of the top destinations in the country for Nordic skiers. More than 91,000 Utah kids have tried skiing through the foundations programs. Soldier Hollow has become a fixture in the Heber Valley, with a tubing hill, a charter school, and annual events including the Sheepdog Championships, which attracted more than 28,000 spectators last September.
Howard Peterson deserves our gratitude for his behind-the-scenes role in the development of Utah's "legacy" venues. They will be his legacy also.
Meanwhile, at USSA, the reins were handed to Bill Marolt, a former U.S. Ski Team alpine director who later served 12 years as athletic director at the University of Colorado. Marolt soon announced his intention to make the U.S. skiing program "the best in the world." There were skeptics, but the team's performance in Vancouver in 2010 when 17 U.S. athletes won 21 medals made believers out of many of them.
Marolt's leadership led to the construction of the USSA Center of Excellence, which has helped give numerous athletes a competitive edge. He also put the organization on a firm financial footing, with revenues growing from $12 million to $40 million a year since 1996.
But perhaps the best measure of Marolt's impact is this: Of the USA's 95 medals in skiing and snowboarding, 70 have come under his tenure as athletic director or CEO.
Both Peterson and Marolt have recently announced their retirement. They will be hard to replace in their respective organizations. But their devotion to creating solid, successful, self-sustaining programs will give their successors a good place to start.