Utah is dressing up for the president's visit.
Almost as if she took her cue from Salt Lake City Olympic Bid Committee Chairman Tom Welch, Mother Nature dumped 2 feet of snow in the Wasatch Mountains - just in time for this weekend's visit by the president of the International Olympic Committee.Thanks to the heavy storms, Juan Antonio Samaranch will get a rare April glimpse of "the greatest snow on earth" - snow the Salt Lake City Olympic Bid Committee hopes will lure the Winter Games here in 1998.
Samaranch, a former economics professor and Spanish ambassador to the USSR and the People's Republic of Mongolia, is not a voting member of the committee he heads. But because his opinions carry weight - heavy weight - the Barcelona, Spain, native will get a king's tour of Salt Lake City's proposed Olympic venues Saturday and Sunday.
"He does not vote, but he is our most important non-voting member. His visit, we feel, is going to set a climate for the campaign that will culminate on June 15th," David Johnson, vice president of the Salt Lake City Olympic Bid Committee, said during a press conference Friday.
"He believes that cities bidding for the Olympic movement strengthen the Olympic movement and so this is a show of support on his part to our candidacy."
As evidence of Samaranch's influence, the next Summer Olympics will be held in his hometown, Barcelona.
Elected to head the IOC in 1980, Samaranch has been hailed its most successful leader. He led the IOC through the difficult times of Olympic boycotts, and achieved a resolution for the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
During his two-day visit to Utah, Samaranch will be courted by the state's most influential business and political leaders, including Utah congressmen and Gov. Norm Bangerter, who will meet the president's plane at noon Saturday.Typically, a visit of IOC members costs about $20,000. Johnson said Samaranch's visit is costing "almost nothing" because small breakfasts, luncheons and dinners with political leaders and financial backers are being sponsored by such prominent citizens as Jon Huntsman and Welch.
Samaranch is expected to meet 300 to 400 people in "small intimate gatherings" during his inspection visit.
"I think the reason we are considered a strong contender for the games is because the visits (by IOC members) have gone well . . . " Johnson said. "We have taken a lot of time to get people here. We are pushing them to come to Salt Lake."
Samaranch is expected to visit or has visited all of the six candidates for the last Olympics of this century including one in his home country, Jaca, Spain. The other candidates are Nagano, Japan; Ostersund, Sweden; Sochi, USSR; and Aosta, Italy.
In a show of support for Salt Lake City's candidacy, Robert Helmick, president of the U.S. Olympic Committee and an IOC executive board member, is accompanying Samaranch. So is Anita DeFrantz, the newest U.S. member of the IOC. Lamine Keita, ambassador to Belgium from Mali and another IOC member, will also be in Salt Lake City during Samaranch's visit.
Johnson said the Salt Lake City Olympic Bid Committee hopes to have attracted 60 IOC members to Utah by June.
"Money remains a constant problem. It is with any candidate city. I don't think it's any secret money is a big challenge," he said. "But we have a commitment from Jon Huntsman, Spence Eccles, Frank Joklik and others that they will find a way to raise the money. And we believe them."