A steady procession of winter sports experts and athletes from around the world will stream into Utah in coming years.
They'll want to know how hard ice gets in February, how deep and dry the snow is at Deer Valley Ski resort and which way the wind tends to blow off the ski jumps at the Winter Sports Park.The athletes will test and try every venue Salt Lake City has set up to host the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, often by participating in world-class competitions. They'll hope to gain the same edge - familiarity - that budding local athletes expect to give them an advantage in the Games.
If Cynthia Ruiz was the Salt Lake Bid Committee's "secret weapon," the already constructed venues were their trump card.
Never before has a city vying to host the Winter Games been so pre-pared so far in advance of hosting its Games.
"A key factor in the IOC's decision was that our facilities and infrastructure are already in place," said Mark Menlove, president of the Utah Ski Association. "What this means to the people of Utah is that we simple move ahead preparing the details to host the 2002 Games."
Only one venue - the Salt Lake Ice Arena - remains to be built. The other eight sports sites are in place or nearly completed. A couple of venues will be modified just prior to the start of the Games.
At the Delta Center, for example, the floor will be raised 6 feet to give spectators better views of figure skating and men's ice hockey competitions.
Several auxiliary facilities are largely in place or in progress, such as the Salt Palace Convention Center, where 7,000 to 10,000 journalists will set up operations during the Games. Still ahead is construction of the Olympic Village at the University of Utah.
Utah got its jump-start in 1989 when it opted to go ahead and build venues before knowing whether it would ever get the Games.
"At the time in '89 we had not just the Olympics in mind but making the Wasatch Front a winter sports capital," said Tom Welch, president of the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee. "This makes the investment by the taxpayer so much more valuable. The facilities are already being used, and they will be for generations to come after the Games."
Among those heaving a sigh of relief when International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch named Salt Lake City as host of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games was Randy Dryer, chairman of the Utah Sports Authority.
The Sports Authority was set up by the Utah Legislature in 1989 to build and operate the winter facilities. It built the venues using one-eighth of 1 percent sales tax collected by the state since 1990.
It would have fallen to Dryer and his committee to figure out what to do with the venues if Utah failed to win the Games.
Before leaving for Budapest, Hungary, to participate in the announcement, the volunteer committee drafted two alternative budgets for the coming year: one if Salt Lake City won the Games and one if it didn't.
The committee meets Friday to adopt the "yes, we won it" version. It also has other pleasant decisions to make. Although its budget was $59 million, the Sports Authority will spend roughly $56 million to build and operate venues through 1999, when it will sell the facilities to the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee.
The $3 million contingency fund would have helped the state run the facilities through 2002 if Salt Lake's bid failed. Now the Sports Authority can use the money to improve the venues - paving the parking lot at the Winter Sports Park, putting in restrooms at the park or maybe buying another Zam-boni ice-grooming machine for the Oquirrh Oval.
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