Jay Evensen: Think twice before another Olympic leap

Published: Thursday, Feb. 9 2012 10:05 a.m. MST

Closing ceremonies, 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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I have a vivid memory from my reckless teenage years of standing on the edge of a cliff near a river in Arizona, looking at a pool of water below.

At that age, the desire for acceptance could outweigh rational thought. Some of my friends already had leaped and survived, so I ignored the drumbeat warnings from my heart, took a running start and hurled myself into blue sky.

It seemed like a 100-foot drop, although in reality it probably was little more than 20 feet. But the fall filled my lungs with a rush of emotions, the splash was an exhilarating seizure of cold water and the feeling I had upon safely reaching the surface was pure relief and satisfaction.

I did not want to try it again.

Which brings me to the subject of whether Utah once again should bid to host the Winter Olympics. Let's not rush into anything.

Gov. Gary Herbert announced last week he was forming a committee to explore the idea of maybe shooting for the 2022 games.

Ten years have passed. The Olympic Cauldron was relit last week at the University of Utah. For many Utahns, pleasant memories returned of relationships forged, victories that inspired the world and lots of positive press.

Even Mitt Romney got in on the act, Tweeting about how "delighted" he was to know the state is thinking of trying again.

That's how memories are. We tend to dwell on the euphoric moment when we successfully swam to the surface. We forget about the heart-pounding uncertainty as we were taking the leap.

The committee should think long and hard before committing to another leap.

Six years ago public officials first started talking about perhaps doing it all over again. Back then I compared it to longing for World War II just because we remember the celebrations on the day it ended.

That was a bit of a stretch, of course. No one launched a blitzkrieg or dropped an atomic bomb here. But it's easy to look at triumphant moments in history and forget that they weren't inevitable. We could have been remembered as the Lehman Brothers of Olympic disasters.

The bid scandal always comes to mind, of course. But truthfully, that was a bit of trumped up nonsense by the Justice Department — more a reflection on the International Olympic Committee than Salt Lake organizers. A repeat of those worries is not likely.

No, I'm talking about all those little worries. We didn't know whether the cauldron would light or whether an inversion would make the valley disappear. Look around you today. Do you see any snow? What would the world do if the next Salt Lake Olympics fell on a year as dry as this one?

Then there were worries about all the things beyond our control, such as international perceptions, protests from one group or another, or whether al-Qaida would add Utah to its hit parade. Remember all the armed soldiers in the streets and the chain-linked fences?

And don't forget the financial worries. Just because we have lots of facilities left over from 2002 doesn't mean the games would be free. Venues would need to be upgraded; new sports accommodated.

Would everything work perfectly again?

Stories this week talked about the financial impact of the games. They brought businesses and tourists here like never before. The governing bodies of several Olympic sports moved their headquarters here.

Those were huge boosts to the local economy. But we've got all of that now. A second Olympics isn't going to bring a similar-sized boost.

Unless your name is J.K. Rowling, it's hard to make sequels better than the original. Even London, site of this year's Summer Olympics, has waited 64 years between turns.

There is more to that story from my youth. Not long after I leapt off the cliff, one of my friends discovered a log that that was submerged near the surface not far from where we were landing. The jump could have turned out disastrously.

Sometimes, it pays to bask in success as long as possible before trying to leap again.

Jay Evensen is associate editor of the Deseret News editorial page. Email him at even@desnews.com. For more content, visit his website, www.jayevensen.com.

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