It doesn’t seem that long ago that Janica Kostelic was weighed down with medals, Picaboo Street announced her retirement, Alisa Camplin flew from a leach-filled pond in Australia to the hearts of the world, Sarah Hughes set the figure-skating world on its rear, Apollo Anton Ohno had to crawl for a medal and Jim Shea recited the same Athlete’s Oath his grandfather Jack Shea, killed in a traffic accident, had done 70 years earlier.
But it was 10 years ago that world attention was focused on Salt Lake City and the 2002 Winter Olympics.
After a somewhat shaky start, with the scandal and all, the Games were a resounding success. Seventeen days of non-stop activities, beginning well before sunrise and extending long past the bewitching hour.
Celebrations began 65 days before with the running of the Olympic flame: 13,500 miles, 11,500 torch carriers running through 46 states to arrive in time for the official start of the Winter Olympics and the lighting of the Olympic flame on Feb. 8, 2002, at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Every event carried its own special story, its own splendor, its own heartbreaks and its own special honors, starting, of course, with the opening ceremonies. Tickets were $885 and all 55,000 had been sold. And all arrived to see the tattered American flag from the Sept. 11 site that was carried into the stadium by New York firemen, policemen and Olympians.
The big story from the alpine events centered on Janica Kostelic of Croatia. She underwent major knee surgery 10 months before the Games, skied with tremendous pain two months before, then came through with four medals in four events.
Bode Miller won America’s only medals (two silvers) in the alpine events. There were also a number of disappointing results from medal hopefuls, including Street, Caroline Lavine and Daron Rahlves.
Camplin, a 5-foot-2 blonde from Australia who practiced her freestyle aerial maneuvers off a self-made ramp on the edge of a muddy, smelly pond, bettered a field on international aerialists to win a gold.
Some of the biggest news focused on another scandal. First, Russian pair skaters Anton Sikharulidze and Elena Berezhnaya were awarded gold medals much to the disbelief of everyone. Then French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne admitted she was pressured to vote for the pair over clear-winners Canadian’s Jamie Sale and Dave Pelletier, who were given silver. Once exposed, skating officials chose to award both pairs gold.
In contrast, the unknown Hughes was a clear winner, bettering favorites Michelle Kwan, Russian Irina Slutskaya and Sasha Cohen, in women’s singles.
The United States showed, at the time, it was the driving force in snowboarding by winning five of the available 12 medals. In the men’s halfpipe Americans claimed all three medals.
The Olympic Oval would become known as the world’s fastest ice. In the 10 long-track events there were eight world records, 10 Olympic records, 66 national records and 193 personal-best records set. In short track, Ohno would become the top story. He won two medals, the second coming after a crash just before the finish that involved the three leaders, leaving the last skater to win gold. Ohno had the presence of mind to crawl to the finish for a silver.
It was Shea who faced the biggest challenge. He dedicated those Olympics to his 91-year-old grandfather, himself a former Olympian, who was killed three weeks before the Games in an auto accident. Jim Shea used this personal drive to win gold in the skeleton.
Throughout the 17 days Salt Lake City never slept. There was always something going on, something to do, some place to go: 10 couples renewed their wedding vows during the Games, fans were entertained nightly by such acts as a fire-thrower in Olympic Square, there was wall-to-wall people celebrating on Park City’s Main Street each evening and large crowds nightly at the Medals Plaza. Pin trading became a popular activity, and several books were written to document the Games. The closing ceremonies were held on Feb. 24, 2002.
For those whose responsibility it was to report these events to the world, the Games were somewhat confined to a particular sport. Spare time was limited to event off days, which were few. Days began before sunup, involved long bus rides, lines at security stations, waiting for events to begin, then the actual completion followed by long press conferences. Then came the return bus rides, hours sitting before computers writing, attending medal ceremonies, more time with the computers followed by the ride home well after sundown.
It was, however, for all involved an unforgettable experience. It was, and is, the world’s greatest sporting event.
2002 Medal Count
Germany - 35
United States - 34
Norway - 24
Canada -- 17
Russia - 16
Austria - 16
Italy - 12
Switzerland - 11
Netherlands - 8
China - 8
Finland - 7