Olympic spirit, and a buzzing crowd, return to Main Street

by Jay Hamburger THE PARK RECORD

A decade ago, on the day before the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics, the Olympic torch relay arrived on Main Street as huge crowds lined the street to watch.

On Wednesday evening, Main Street drew another impressive crowd to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Olympics. Although a week earlier than the actual anniversary of opening ceremonies, Olympic fever again struck Park City anyway.

A mix of Parkites and people from out of town crammed onto lower Main Street as a persistent snow fell. Many wore Olympic-themed outfits. Some donned the blue Roots berets made famous during the Games themselves. Others had on volunteer or staff uniforms they have kept since the Olympics. Some parents brought children who were born in the years after the Olympics.

There were Olympians milling about with the rest of the crowd Jim Shea Jr., who won the skeleton gold in 2002 and has deep ties to Park City, was one of the most recognizable of the former athletes.

Outside the Kimball Art Center, Olympic pin collectors put their goods on display. A favorite pastime of Olympic spectators, pin collecting was popular on Main Street in 2002. The ones on display on Wednesday represented the range of the collectable pins.

Highlights from the Olympics played on a large video board set up for the occasion. A roster of speakers reminisced about the Games and spoke about the legacy of winter sports the Olympics left in the Park City area. The Olympic mascots – Powder, Copper and Coal — were on hand.

Colin Hilton, who was a high-ranking Olympic organizer in 2002 and now is the president and CEO of the organization that manages facilities like the Utah Olympic Park, said much of the focus nowadays is on youth programs. He said the Olympic Park, the site of the ski jumping and sliding sports competitions in 2002, is busier than it has ever been.

Bill Marolt, the president and CEO of the Park City-based United States Ski and Snowboard Association, touted the organization’s Center of Excellence training facility at Quinn’s Junction. He noted the successes of American skiers and snowboarders in Olympic competitions.

Executives from Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort two Olympic venues — spoke briefly as well. Bob Wheaton, the president and general manager of Deer Valley, mentioned Park City’s status as a winter-sports hotspot and credited local volunteers as being the best.

Approximately half of the events during the Olympics were held in the Wasatch Back, with venues stretching from the Utah Olympic Park to Soldier Hollow in Wasatch County. Many of the festivities in 2002, meanwhile, were in Park City. Main Street was turned into a pedestrian-only celebration zone during the Olympics, drawing upward of 400,000 people over the course of the Games. There were nightly fireworks, the Budweiser Clydesdales trotted on Main Street and the crowds enjoyed concerts.

In his remarks on Wednesday, Mayor Dana Williams said the people of Park City should be credited with putting on an extraordinary event in 2002. He took office weeks before opening ceremonies. Williams, a musician, later sat in with Robert Randolph & the Family Band, the performers who headlined the celebration. He played the harmonica with the band.

Brad Olch, who preceded Williams as the mayor of Park City and who played an important role in the preparations for the Olympics, gave a brief history of Utah’s Olympic bidding, saying Park City became interested in the 1980s, during a downturn in the local economy. He briefly mentioned Salt Lake City’s failed bid for the 1998 Winter Olympics before the successful one for 2002.

The celebration on Main Street was part of a wider commemoration of the tenth anniversary and it coincided with a freestyle World Cup competition at Deer Valley, the site of moguls and aerials competitions in 2002. On Feb. 9 another celebration, running from 5 p.m. until 6 p.m., is scheduled at the Utah Olympic Park featuring athletes. The day before, the Olympic cauldron outside Rice-Eccles Stadium will be relit in Salt Lake City. It will remain lit until Feb. 11.

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