Spence Eccles Olympic Freestyle Pool opening is about community | ParkRecord.com

Spence Eccles Olympic Freestyle Pool opening is about community

Tom Kelly, Park Record Columnist

If there was one word to describe the feeling at the Utah Olympic Park for the dedication of the Spence Eccles Olympic Freestyle Pool Saturday night it was community.

Park City is a lot like any other mountain resort town. We have our politics, our squabbles, our visioning for the future. But what ultimately brings us together is our sense of community and what is important to us. As you walked around the grassy slopes and the plaza above the pool, or wandered around the deck, you were struck with the sense of pride we all share in providing opportunities for kids.

Anyone who’s spent time in Utah knows the Eccles name, posted proudly on buildings around the region. When you look up the definition of philanthropy in the dictionary, it ought to just say: Spence Eccles. It’s been over two decades since the State of Utah planted a seed with $59 million. Today, the legacy of the 2002 Olympic Games plays out more for kids in Utah than anywhere in the world.

It was ironic as you looked up at the dozen or more athletes flying 60 feet into the air off the new jumps to think that most of them weren’t even born when the facility opened in 1992. In fact, the training pool was not a part of the original Olympic plan. Why would the bid committee for a Winter Olympics invest in a swimming pool? The USSA’s Howard Peterson convinced them it was worth the money.

Today, the training pool is the centerpiece of the Park. And its wooden predecessor sent more than a dozen athletes on to Olympic or World Championship medals. The new seven-jump structure is unique in the world.

Over 300 community members stepped up to help cover the $3-million project through a unique partnership between two nonprofits — the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team Foundation. It was jump-started with a $1-million challenge grant from Spence Eccles. It was important enough to the Youth Sports Alliance that it wrote a check. Same with the U.S. Olympic Committee. Local clubs, including board members and staff of Team Park City United, stepped and did the same. And despite Spence’s First Security and Wells Fargo roots, Zions Bank also anted up with a major contribution to help close out the campaign.

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As a donor to a cause, you don’t often get to experience the heart-warming benefits of your giving. For Spence Eccles, Saturday night was a highlight of his life. It was part of the mission he and others undertook in 1989 to not only produce a great Games, but to build legacy and give back to kids for generations to come. It was a night that brought a lot of tears to people’s eyes and broad smiles to their faces.

As each of the younger boys and girls headed up to the jump, Spence asked each of them their age. Most of the younger ones weren’t even here in 2002. But as they climbed the stairs up the gleaming new jumps, they, too, felt a sense of history — just as World Cup champion Mac Bohonnon did as he broke the ribbon and launched into a massive quint-twisting triple flip.

As the dripping wet Flying Ace All Stars posed for a photo after the show, kids from local clubs flocked to join their heroes. Right in the middle was Spence Eccles, holding a pair of aerials skis above his head and smiling ear-to-ear.

The image on the deck Saturday night was quintessential Park City. We all took home a bit more pride in knowing that we had all come together to make this opportunity possible for the next generation of kids with Olympic dreams in their eyes.