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WILL CHECKETTS REPLACE WELCH FOR OLYMPICS?

Published: Friday, Dec. 6 1996 12:00 a.m. MST

Is Olympic boss Tom Welch about to be replaced by former Utah Jazz president Dave Checketts? A New York City tabloid says some Olympic organizers are trying to recruit Checketts, who's now running Madison Square Garden.

The story came as a surprise to Welch, as well as to members of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee reached by the Deseret News. None said they were aware Checketts had been asked to take the top job."Salt Lake calling on Checketts," is the headline over a brief story that appeared in the Thursday edition of the New York Daily News, one of the country's best-read newspapers.

The story says that Checketts, president of New York City's most-famous sports arena for the past two years, is a candidate to run the 2002 Winter Games, according to an unnamed U.S. Olympic official.

Checketts "has been approached by organizing committee members and has been deemed `someone who merits serious interest,' " the official is quoted as saying in the story.

When told about the New York article, Welch responded: "I have no knowledge of it. I can't imagine who the official was.

"I don't detect any unrest or any dissatisfaction on anybody's part with the job we're doing," he said.

There has been some friction between Welch and the committee's board of trustees - but that was more than a year ago, after Salt Lake City was selected by the International Olympic Committee to host the 2002 Winter Games.

"There was a justifiable period of rethinking and regrouping," said Frank Joklik, chairman of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee board of trustees. "Now, we're on a steady course."

Joklik was just as puzzled by the story as Welch. "As far as (Checketts) being approached by anyone, not only do I not know anything about that, I seriously doubt the accuracy of the report," Joklik said.

Nolan Karras, who represents Gov. Mike Leavitt on the board of trustees, said he, too, was surprised by the report. "There's no truth to it as far as I know," he said. "If it came from anyone, they were not on the local level."

Karras was referring to the two USOC representatives on the board of trustees. Welch has been the USOC's toughest adversary in the nearly yearlong negotiations over how to split the money made from the 2002 Winter Games.

USOC spokesman Mike Moran dismissed that idea. "There's no one here that even heard of a story like that," Moran said. "I'm quite sure that didn't come from the U.S. Olympic Committee."

As for Checketts, he's quoted in the story as saying he's not interested in the job. "I have no intentions of leaving the Garden," he's quoted as saying by the New York Daily News.

Checketts, 41, was recently profiled in USA Today as "sport's Boy Wonder." He's credited with boosting annual revenues at the Garden from $12 million to $86 million and with saving the Utah Jazz back in the mid-1980s.

Ironically, Checketts really was approached about five years ago about taking a job with what was then the Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee - by Welch.

"Checketts and I are friends. I've talked with him when I was looking at different organizational situations," Welch said. The position offered was that of chief operating officer.

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