I’m not sure what I liked most about the 2002 Winter Games. As a card-carrying cynic, I’ve got to rank the extremely-juicy SLOC bidding scandal right up near the top. And then there was the Senator Orrin Hatch-instigated federal land swap with Earl Holding up at Snowbasin Resort. To this day, I can’t get enough of Utah conservatives and their somewhat-shaky grip on the "moral high ground."
The implementation of the heightened post-9/11 security infrastructure almost proved to be a full-medal event of its own. Following two-way radio reports that referred to a National Guardsman’s rifle miscue as an "accidental discharge," I recall a few of us nearby his theater of operations praying that it was nothing more than flatulence.
Then there were the totally-out-of-their-element agents from widely-varied departments, offices, and bureaus plodding through the knee-deep white stuff in multiple layers of long johns and billowing snowsuits, attempting to rescue stuck snowmobiles while wired on thermos coffee and Snicker bars.
Fortunately for all of us, however, there proved to be much more danger in the mosh pit at the Little Feat show on Lower Main Street the day the Olympic Torch hit town than out at the competition venues themselves. Not that throbbing with the masses has no upside. Body heat in winter should never be shrugged aside.
Watching the endless parade of loping Nordic skiers in training along the far reaches of Heber Valley also never got old. There was this Zen-like austerity in their demeanor as they, day-after-day, put miles and daylight behind them.
Plus, I must admit that, as one who never totally bought in to the organizer’s altruistic claims of the Games being "all about the kids" that the nurturing of future generations was their sole goal I did finally come to an understanding of the slogan "Light the Fire Within" following an encounter with the Italian Women’s Biathlon Team in the Ragu aisle at a local Heber market,
A similar epiphany would also play out over at the now-defunct "J B Mulligan’s Pub" in Park City with "The Budweiser Girls," a quite captivating quorum of Salt Lake lovelies who, sporting logo-ed sweaters and an ingratiating attitude, handed out free paraphernalia and hugs.
I also couldn’t get enough of Bill Kranstover’s torch sculpture outside the Kimball Art Center. Dropping by to hoist one in its honor became a ritual. And I loved Patricia Smith’s artful Olympic posters and the custom mastheads she produced for The Park Record’s various editions during the Games.
But, lest we forget, the Games themselves were afoot! The men’s halfpipe, the sole event that I actually attended in person during the 17 days of competition, sucked me in from the get-go.
By the time the first dude had dropped in, gone huge, thrown some mean 1080s, and succumbed to loose snow on an air-to-fakie, we knew we were no longer in Kansas. Then the next guy busted an inverted 720, a corked 900, and a cab 1080 melon. Insane amplitude ruled the day with McTwist-to-Crippler combos and back-side corked-up nose-grabs as dessert. I remember thinking, "My kingdom for a lexicon."
Even before Team USA swept the podium, it became apparent that I was about as out of my element as a tarantula on a slice of Raymond Chandler’s angel-food. I think what initially drew me to the sport that day had much more to do with its inherent anarchy than any of its athletic components.
These kids disrespected authority and I loved that. Silver medalist Danny Kass, who I’d already taken note of once I heard he listened to AC/DC as he went through his pipe routine, thought the uniforms were "pretty mommy." He’d much rather have been on a Count Chocula box than Wheaties. I became smitten.
Although very few of the initial questions I had about the environmental sustainability factor of putting on a Winter Olympic games in the canyons of Utah were ever really answered, I must say I sold out to the "fun factor" of it all and had a thoroughly enjoyable time.
And it is just that mindset that has me uncomfortable about recent local enthusiasms over bringing the Games back. None of the powers that be, from the IOC to the USOC to SLOC, has a track record of trust. But, then again, neither do I. I’m sure if they did come around again, I’d party like it was 2002!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for the past 40 years.
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