As around 300 news media from around the nation gathered poolside at the Utah Olympic Park Sunday night to kickoff the U.S. Olympic Committee's Sochi Media Summit, memories came floating back on the role Utah has played in Olympic success over the past two decades.
It's been 25 years since the USOC took then-USSA leader Howard Peterson's vision to heart and implored the U.S. Winter Olympic bid cities to include legacy venues and grassroots programs for youth in their proposals. Utah's Governor, Gary Herbert, took a look back at the last 25 years as he addressed the media. Salt Lake City figured out the USOC's directive better than others and got the nod to bid for both 1998 and 2002 in return for building venues before it got the IOC right to the Games. And true to the USOC's directive, began building venues for athletes in the early '90s long before gaining the 2002 bid.
In January 1993 the then-Bear Hollow Sports Park was dedicated. A few months later, the freestyle splash pool opened. Less than five years after that, Americans Nikki Stone and Eric Bergoust stood proudly at Nagano with freestyle aerials gold. Hometown hero Joe Pack would follow four years later. They were just a few of the success stories that tie directly back to Utah's development of legacy venues.
The vision of the youths of Utah being energized by the Olympics plays out across all sports. Thousands of Utahns are getting a chance to live their Olympic dream. Hundreds more are making Utah their training or permanent home.
Under the leadership of USSA President and CEO Bill Marolt, the Olympic governing body for skiing and snowboarding has invested in its USSA Center of Excellence and will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Ski Team in Utah next summer.
Right here in Park City, thriving grassroots clubs under the Youth Sports Alliance are providing kids an opportunity to achieve Olympic dreams in nearly every winter sport.
All told, more than 1,000 athletes participate on 13 different competitive teams supported by the Youth Sports Alliance. Another thousand are introduced to skiing, snowboarding, figure skating, hockey and speed skating through Get Out & Play Elementary School Winter Sports Programs. Thousands more each season try cross country skiing at Soldier Hollow.
Sarah Hendrickson and the entire women's ski jumping team are good examples of the opportunities presented in Utah motivated by what they saw as young girls in 2002 and able to achieve their dreams through a local club. Ted Ligety, inspired as a youth by watching the likes of Alberto Tomba at America's Opening, is now a record-holding World Cup and Olympic Champion.
According to Governor Herbert, over the past two decades Utah has played host to over 500 major events, including nearly a hundred at the elite Olympic level. That will continue this season with eight World Cup or Olympic qualifying events in bobsled, skeleton, luge, short and long track speed skating, cross-country skiing, freestyle skiing and the naming of the first ever U.S. Freeskiing Olympic Team.
Many of the journalists were visiting for the first time since 2002, many more for the first time ever. What they saw here was something special in the opportunities offered to Utah kids. As Governor Herbert elaborated, Utah truly is the State of Sport.