Olympic Day at Utah Olympic Park draws athletes, visitors and Mitt Romney
The Utah Olympic Park was bustling with people from all over on Saturday. The park was celebrating Olympic and Paralympic Day, an event to commemorate Olympians, Paralympians and the Olympic spirit, hosted annually in the month of June at the UOP and around the world. The event drew seven current and former Olympians, groups of tourists and Senate candidate Mitt Romney, all there to celebrate the Olympic spirit, and each with a different take on its meaning and place in the world.
The parking lot near the pavilion was filled with cars hailing from California, Texas, Kansas, North Dakota and others.
Kathleen Colbert and her granddaughter, Avery Colbert, were two of the estimated 1,500 people who had come to celebrate Olympic Day. Kathleen said she had seen the aerials show two years earlier and was impressed.
“I wanted them to have the opportunity to experience it,” she said of her granddaughters, one of whom wasn’t with them.
So the Colberts flew out to Park City for a five-day trip, where they participated in local activities (zip lining, horseback riding), culminating with Olympics Day.
While there, Avery and Kathleen made their way around a table of athletes, getting signatures from seven Olympians, including Chris Mazdzer, Jillian Vogtli, Valerie Fleming, Preston Griffall, Shannon Bahrke-Happe, Nikki Stone, and Derek Parra.
“There’s this one, which is a gold,” Avery said, pointing at one of the autographs she had collected on a poster. “Then a lot of people got medals,”
“I think it’s phenomenal,” Kathleen said of the event. “Everybody ought to have an opportunity to meet an Olympian. I get choked up just because it’s very moving to know what these people have to go through and the commitment they make. It’s amazing.”
Parra, a three-time Olympic speed skater, said it’s no less moving for the athletes.
“It’s just a great fantastic honor,” Parra said of being an Olympian. “But it truly is a great movement for kids; a lot of integrity and honesty and respect. And, hopefully, trying to share those Olympic values with the kids that come through the doors is something we can do.”
He said it’s important to help kids find something active they are passionate about, especially during a time when kids are spending more time looking at screens.
“(My daughter), when she comes here, I get her outside every day she’s here just to let her see what’s out there and hopefully spark an interest,” he said. “And hopefully she gets passionate about something and chases that dream.”
The event also featured a booth from the National Ability Center, where people could see some of the equipment that Paralympians use to compete, such as a sit-ski and a seated wakeboard. The organization also provided a small fleet of handcycles for people to try, especially kids.
“As they grow up and see somebody like me participating in it, they can feel like ‘I’ve done that before,’ then we can relate at a certain level,” said Alma Stewart, an instructor at the NAC. “They can see it, and it isn’t something so scary.”
The day concluded with the Flying Aces All-Stars’ first show of the summer, which was kicked off with a speech by Romney.
“What I love most about the Olympics is not just our volunteers and our athletes, but the fact that whenever someone had a spectacular performance as an athlete, whether they are from our country or another, we stood and cheered,” said the Republican fixture and senatorial hopeful, who had helped organize the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. “We welcomed people from all over the world here, and we showed them the kind of spirit that exists in the world when we really care about individuals. We don’t care where they are from, we care about what they are able to do and how they perform.”
He said the 2002 Winter Olympics showcased those priorities, and were the “best Olympic Games ever.”
Romney, the favorite in the race to represent Utah in the Senate, made his opinion on a future Salt Lake City Olympic bid clear.“Let’s get the games here again as soon as possible,” he said.
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Returning to Park City’s Shepherd of the Mountains Lutheran Church on Saturday is the annual Bike and Hike fundraiser in support of the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry.