2002 Olympic commemorations stir fond memories for many Utahns

Published: Saturday, Feb. 18 2012 9:53 p.m. MST

Short-track speed skater Katherine Reutter, left, and aerial skier Emily Cook sign autographs at The Gateway.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney was greeted like a returning hero when he was introduced to fans Saturday night during the Stars on Ice show celebrating the 10th anniversary of Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

Many in the audience at Energy Solutions Arena gave the former Salt Lake Olympic Committee chief a standing ovation and cheered loudly as he waved to the crowd.

The show — featuring several Olympic champions, including figure skater Sarah Hughes, speedskater Derek Parra as well as Canadian gold medal duo Jamie Sale and Dave Pelltier — was one of the marquee events of the 16-day commemoration this month.

Salt Lakers Jane and Ren Willie were moved by the event and the fond memories they recalled from their Olympic experience a decade ago.

"It seems like it just happened yesterday," she said. "We live just three blocks away from Rice-Eccles Stadium where the opening and closing ceremonies were. It just brings back great, great memories. We were very proud to have this in Salt Lake City."

Becoming emotional, her husband recounted his fondest memories of the games — watching the Paralympic athletes enter the stadium during their opening ceremonies.

"It was spectacular and all of the Paralympians were crying as they came in," he said, fighting back his own tears. "It was just amazing how it affected them because they had never been welcomed like that before."

Willie said based on the previous experience, he would gladly support Utah making another bid to host the Olympics in 2022.

Staci Horsley literally had a baby on board when she and her husband Jason strolled the streets of Salt Lake City during the 2002 Winter Games.

The Star Valley, Wyo., couple had no event tickets but "we came and did the scene, took it all in," Horsley said. "That's what I keep telling my son. I was carrying you when all of this was going on."

On Saturday, the couple and their three children took part in the Olympic Sports Festival at The Gateway. The event is a 10-year commemoration of the Salt Lake Games and a look forward to the 2012 Summer Games in London.

The street festival included booths that enable participants to test their agility, speed, endurance, precision and flexibility. Olympic athletes including skeleton athlete Jimmy Shea and speedskater Parra were among athletes signing autographs Saturday afternoon.

The Horselys are primarily a "basketball family," but their children seemed eager to try each of the booths, which included ping-pong, hockey, rowing and bicycling. Other displays featured pin trading and opportunities to pose for photographs with cardboard cutouts of Olympians or by holding a torch from the 2002 Games.

Four-year-old Jordyn Horsley seemed a natural on the balance beam, practically skipping across the apparatus, just 4 inches wide.

Saturday's commemoration stirred many memories of the Games, Horsely said. "The opening and closing ceremonies were very touching and very beautiful. They were definitely well suited for Utah," she said.

Fraser Bullock, chief operating officer of SLOC, was on hand for the festival Saturday. Opening ceremonies remain one of Bullock's most vivid memories of the 2002 Games.

"Two billion people around the world were focused on our Games," Bullock recalled. As the flag from ground zero was carried into Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium, "there was dead silence."

But one of his favorite days involved the United States' medal sweep of the men's snowboard halfpipe.

He attended the event with Romney and their respective wives. "It was a spectacular, beautiful day," he said.

The mother and daughter team of Chris Coombs and Monique Calder attended the festival in their Games volunteer uniforms.

"We were at the mag and bag," where they checked bags and operated metal detectors, Coombs said.

They also ran a lost-and-found booth, where they collected a sizable collection of gloves, cell phones, cameras and even a framed painting.

Coombs said some of best moments at the 2002 Games involved milling with the crowd on Salt Lake City's streets at night. "It was just amazing seeing people from all over the world. It was really exciting," she said.

But her mother's favorite memory was meeting Romney, who made a point of greeting as many volunteers as possible, she said.

"We got to shake Mitt Romney's hand," Calder said, practically swooning.

"He came up to me and shook my hand and gave me a little pat just to say 'Thank you.'"

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com, jlee@desnews.com, Twitter: JasenLee1

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