Tom Kelly: Rekindling our Olympic legacy
I wandered down historic Main Street marveling at the glittering lights in the fresh, falling snow. Revelers spilled out of the Wasatch Brew Pub at the top of Main, while a block below, a line wound its way out of the Roots store back toward Swede Alley. Up and down Main Street, friends and neighbors chatted with foreign visitors around propane-fueled fire pits.
Such was the spirit for 17 days in 2002 when the world came to our little mining village nestled on the Wasatch Back to celebrate the Olympic Winter Games.
It’s been 18 years since our Park City ridgelines were bedecked in glitter and gold, turning our city into a quaint Olympic village that would leave indelible memories on our residents and visitors alike. We remember hometown hero Joe Pack soaring into the blue sky to win aerials silver. It was here we were introduced to the inimitable Shannon Bahrke, who won moguls silver on Champion at Deer Valley.
We met Bode Miller by virtue of his crazy one-ski-near-crash at Snowbasin and his giant slalom silver medal on C.B.’s at Park City. And we saw the world’s biggest smile on the face of skeleton gold medalist Jimmy Shea as he flashed a photo of his late grandfather who had inspired him. Our Park City family cheered on slalom forerunner Ted Ligety, who would win his own Olympic gold four years later.
Crowds flocked to the ski jumps, walking up from Bear Hollow down below to witness a Swiss Harry Potter look-alike Simon Amman sweep double gold. Nearly two decades later, he’s still competing. Team USA was strong on the sliding track, winning silver-bronze in men’s doubles luge and four-man bobsled. And it made history when Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers won the first-ever gold medal in the new women’s bobsled event.
These were the scenes and the stories that have formed the fabric of our community for two decades. Now, it’s time to think about doing it again.
Last week, Salt Lake City and the State of Utah took a notable next step to bringing back the Olympics, naming the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games. It was an anticipated next step for hopeful local organizers after the USOPC had named Salt Lake City as America’s Choice for a future bid in December, 2018.
While there is no timeline, 2030 and 2034 are the next opportunities. Ironically, it’s a far shorter leadup than Salt Lake City had in its quest for the 2002 Games, which began with its U.S. selection in June, 1989.
As we watch cities around the world question the value of the Games for their communities, we think back to how those 17 days enriched our lives. From the fire pits on Main Street to the venues built into our mountains, we figured it out. We learned that the value of the Olympics isn’t the throngs of visitors or the gold medals or even the 17 days.
The Olympics to us are represented by the young athletes of the world who were barely born in 2002 and now make our community their home. Our community’s culture is embodied in the gold medalist sitting next to us in a coffee shop. We thrive in outdoor celebration on a crisp Park City evening, standing at the base of the Utah Olympic Park ski jumps or staying warm amidst the thousands of cheering fans at a Deer Valley World Cup. The Olympics have engendered the pride we feel in a community that has been protected and preserved by strong civic leadership.
From our ridgelines to our canyons, Park City has always been a welcoming community. The fire pit gatherings in 2002 embodied our town. While the 2002 Games have long since passed, we have kept that fire alive in a vibrant, outdoor culture.
U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland was in town last weekend. She was struck by both our incredible natural environment as well as the support, from the state level down to municipalities, like Park City.
“This environment has everything it will take to have a spectacular Winter Games,” she said. “And we’re excited to do it again.”
Looking ahead, 2020 and 2034 are not all that far away!
Wisconsin native Tom Kelly landed in Park City in 1988 (still working on becoming an official local). A recently inducted member of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, he is most known for his role as lead spokesperson for Olympic skiing and snowboarding for over 30 years until his retirement in 2018. This will be his 50th season on skis, typically logging 60 days in recent years.
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Columnist Tom Clyde’s family lights a hat on fire each Labor Day to mark the end of another summer on the ranch. It was only recently that he realized not all families partake in that tradition.