Two months from decision day, and Utah's bid for the 1998 Olympic Winter Games is at a diplomatic apex this weekend. Juan Antonio Samaranch is in town, and you know what that means. No rest for the movement. Get on this guy's good side, and the next thing you know CBS is asking where it can set up its micro dishes.
Samaranch is president of the International Olympic Committee. In June, he will preside over the IOC's bid-awarding process in Birmingham, England. He will not personally have a vote in deciding which city wins the rights for the 1998 Winter Games. But as Rainer Dahl, the president of the Utah Sports Foundation, said yesterday at the airport, "He's got a little influence . . . there's a reason why the Summer Olympics are in Barcelona this summer and not Paris."Samaranch is a native of Barcelona.
Since Utah was not fortunate to have the IOC president born here, his first and only visit to the Beehive State this weekend has not been left to
chance. His 29-hour stay - from noon Saturday to 5 p.m. today - has been completely itinerized, starting with his incoming flight from New York, which was not a common commercial carrier. Instead, local businessman Ian Cumming sent his G-3 Gulfstream private jet to New York. The president thus did not have to change planes in Chicago or Denver, did not have to return his tray table and seatback to their upright and locked positions, and upon arrival at the Salt Lake International Airport, did not have to wait at the baggage carousel, which, local officials knew, could eat up a large portion of the 29 hours right there.
When the private jet pulled up to the Delta Hangar, two Salt Lake City fire engines gushed giant sprays of water in welcome, the 23rd Army National Guard band played march music, and about 150 people held baloons aloft and applauded as Samaranch stepped off the plane onto a red carpet literally rolled in front of him.
The president was then ushered into a Salt Lake County Sheriff's helicopter for a ride to Jon Huntsman's home in Deer Valley for lunch. The crowd, including the city council, the Chamber of Commerce Salt Shakers dressed in Mark Eubank-styled "snow coats," the band, and the mayor, waved goodbye as the helicopter arched toward the snow-covered mountains. In this business, you do what you have to do.
Saturday's schedule called for a tour of Park City's Main Street after lunch, and, in the evening, a VIP reception prior to performances by the Utah Symphony and Ballet West - which happened to be performing the very night Mr. Samaranch was in town.
Today's itinerary includes a tour of the facilities at the University of Utah, where the Olympic athletes would be housed, and a tour of the Salt Palace, all of it intermixed with receptions, handshakes, slaps on the back, shoeshines, manicures and inquiries about the wife and family.
Others, and I admit I tend to lean in this direction, may have mapped out a different, more informal, agenda for the president - maybe some Mexican food in Park City, a run through unbroken powder down PayDay, a visit with the ultimate recruiter, Rick Majerus, who, if not Salt Lake, could at least get Samaranch to choose Provo; a private screening of Dances with Wolves in Spanish (Danza con Lobos) to set a Western American mood (has he seen the movie? Would he prefer it to Beethoven's 5th? Has anyone asked?), and a Sunday morning off for sleeping in until at least noon in his hotel room.
Then, get him to the airport just before the Jazz plane arrives from Phoenix, so he'd leave thinking all those people were seeing him off.
As it is, the members of the Salt Lake City Bid Committee are hoping Samaranch leaves today in a Utah frame of mind. That he'll feel culturally enlightened, physically impressed and well-fed. That he'll know he's got a friend in Utah. That the world is welcome here, and especially him. That if he thinks this was a great visit, wait till he brings 60 nations and the youth of the world with him.
The president gave no visible hints yesterday of what he may be thinking, if he was impressed, if he preferred Salt Lake's gushing to Nagano, Japan's, gushing. He spoke softly and carried a big clout. He stopped short of saying, "Let the Games Begin," although it was obvious they already had anyway.