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      F I E L D  T R I P S

MARCH 13 , 2002

February 8-17 , 2002: 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, UT

A Gold Medal Vacation
Part 1: The Back Story • Part 2 • Part 3

Pitchers and Catchers, the day which marks an end to the winter season in some quarters, passed this writer by all but unnoticed this year. But I had a good excuse. While the first signs of spring emerged from Florida training camps, I was spending nine days in a snow white wonderland: the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Forgive the off-topic foray. I grew up in Salt Lake, spending most of my childhood there. Growing up Jewish amid a Mormon majority probably wasn't as bad as I've made it out to be elsewhere, but it was no picnic either. To this day, my feelings about the city are hopelessly conflicted, thanks in part to the inevitable questions which follow being asked where I'm from: "Are you Mormon?" or, alternately, "You're not Mormon, are you?" followed by "What was THAT like?" Innocent small-talk suddenly becomes an invitation to psychoanalysis, and I start looking for an exit strategy to the conversation.

The prevailing attitudes of conservatism and provincialism in SLC frustrated me to no end during my adolescence. But they also gave me an opposition to define myself against, forcing me to think critically about the world and spurring me to find a place more in harmony with my own values. I guess you could say Salt Lake shaped me for the better, despite its best intentions.

But the thing — besides my loving parents' continued presence there — that's kept me coming back for more has been the snow, "The Greatest Snow on Earth," as the license plates used to say. I grew up skiing from the age of six, and for all my love of baseball, winter sports hold a spot just as near and dear to my heart. I'm a hell of a lot closer to being an Olympic Downhill skier than I am to being a major league baseball player. And given the choice between watching Game Seven of a World Series or the Men's Downhill... let's just say it isn't automatic.

So when the 2002 Winter Olympics were, um, awarded to Salt Lake City seven years ago, I knew I would be there. And being from Salt Lake would finally pay off.

As it turns out, Salt Lake City HAD finally paid off — much more literally than I ever could have guessed. A bid scandal came to light three years ago, bringing charges of bribery, racketeering, fraud, and conspiracy against the heads of the bid committee. The behind-the-scenes games threatened to overshadow the Games themselves, and made the city a laughingstock on the late-night talk-show circuit.

While the scandal was plenty sordid, with International Olympic Committee delegates and their relatives receiving cash, gifts, scholarships and other favors to manipulate the selection process — it was, in my opinion, blown way out of proportion. The Salt Lake bid committee was caught holding the bag for the kind of unchecked corrruption which had been taking place since the Olympics became big money; i.e., since Juan Antonio Samaranch became head of the IOC (not that the Avery Brundage era was exactly wholesome, either). I'm not trying to excuse it, but anyone naive enough to think that such practices — trading personal favors for Olympic bid votes — weren't going on prior to Salt Lake City's bid probably still believes in the Easter Bunny and lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald.

The scandal did much to dim public enthusiasum for the Games prior to September 11, especially as some sponsors began to distance themselves from the mess. But post-September 11, they became something else entirely, less a channel for our patriotic fervor or even for our collective healing than an outlet for our anxiety about Big Events. With over $3 million spent on security, these Olympics became a disciplined exercise in creating a highly-controlled environment designed to put safety concerns ahead of more aesthetic ones. Not to mention an exercise in patience when it came to waiting in line for the ubiquitious "mag and bags" (magnetic scans and bag inspections) prior to entering each event. And a lesson in the spirit of cooperation when hordes of friendly volunteers (assisted by armed National Guards) provided a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

My own anticipation of the Big Event got somewhat lost in the logistics of sixteen months worth of planning (bring up the online ticket lottery in my family and you'll get four sets of rolled eyeballs), but my effort didn't go to waste. On the contrary, it all boiled down to one unforgettable, "Experience of a Lifetime" week. With three guests in tow — girlfriend Andra, roommate Issa, and friend Nick (familiar accomplices to regular readers of this site) — I went home to Salt Lake to immerse myself in the Olympics, attending seven events (or nine, depending upon how you count) and even finding time to hit the slopes twice.

Part 2: Let the Games Begin


Click here to enlarge
The Fearsome Foursome:
Nick, Issa, Andra and Jay

Your humble reporter

Deep down, Issa knew that purchasing a French flag would come back to shame hiim

Andra was never shy
about showing her colors

Nick, the Half-Austrian Yankee