It should have been a relaxing evening, sitting there in front of the TV set with the family watching the 1998 Winter Olympics.

It should have been, but then one of the kids had to pipe up, right in the middle of Tara Lipinski's gold-medal performance, and blurt it out:"Gee, this is fun, Dad, but I can't wait until four years from now when we can all go see this together. That'll be great!"

Then all of the kids started parading around the room excitedly, certain their parents wouldn't balk at a relatively short drive to the Delta Center for the 2002 Olympic figure skating championships. You did take them to The Wizard of Oz on Ice, after all, and the Olympics should be almost as good.

Well, that ruined the evening. While the judges were busy scoring, I was scrambling for a way to break the news: Unless Lipinski or her agent marries into the family by then, the odds we can both afford and obtain tickets for the family to attend the next Olympic figure skating finals are longer than the rush-hour back-ups at your nearby I-15 onramp.

At least freeway reconstruction will end one day. If I don't come up with Winter Olympics tickets, I'll never hear the end of it.

And bursting through the door one day in 2001 yelling, "Look everybody, front-row seats! . . . to the women's curling preliminaries, Kazakstan vs. the Virgin Islands!" just isn't going to cut it. Not without prior conditioning.

The reality is that the 2002 Winter Games are going to be a big disappointment for a lot of young Utahns, not to mention their parents. If, that is, they expect to be in the stands when Lipinski defends her title or when Keith Tkachuk slaps home the gold medal-winning goal for the United States.

As parents, we need to do everything we can now to:

- Save as much money as possible and be first in line when tickets (likely to cost $25-$300) go on sale. Or, if the Salt Lake Organizing Committee goes with a lottery system, apply for as many tickets as possible.

- Convince our kids that there just isn't a better athletic event on this Earth than the scintillating biathlon. Guns and skis. Loud noises and sword-like implements stabbing defenseless snowflakes. What more could a kid want?

SLOC won't decide for at least another 18-24 months how to distribute tickets or even how much they'll cost. About 1.7 million tickets are expected to be available. That sounds like a lot, but nearly 5.5 million will be sold for the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney. And it's not clear whether Utahns will have any advantage over New Yorkers or New Zealanders in acquiring tickets.

"This is the world's largest event . . . and we have got to market tickets worldwide," cautioned Shelley Thomas, vice president of communications for SLOC. "So there are some tickets that will be very difficult to garner."

Like the opening and closing ceremonies. But what kid wants to watch a bunch of foreigners with big thighs carry flags around a stadium?

The biathlon and cross-country ski events at Soldier Hollow could be your best bet for an Olympic family affair. About 20,000 spectators can view each event there. It's time to start making Norway's Bjorn Dahlie a household name.

I might be going out on a limb here, but I'm predicting curling at the 2,000-seat Ogden Ice Sheet won't be sold out. If your kids like big rocks or helping out with the broom in the kitchen, you might be able to sell this sport.

Luge and bobsled tickets could be accessible. But do you really think your kids can stand in the same place all day so that every five minutes they can turn their heads quickly from left to right for a blurry image of something that goes "swoooosh" and quickly disappears? You'll spend the whole time trying to keep them from eating the snow.

If you have the money, you can go for the high-profile events. There will be scalpers. Paying four times more for a ticket than it's really worth may be stupid, but it's not illegal in Utah.

But there's a less painful way to get through this. If you really put some effort into it, and take a page from the UDOT public-relations man-ual, by 2002 you can have a house full of rabid biathlon and curling nuts who'll think you've pulled off a major coup by securing the worst tickets available.

Or maybe you'll never hear the end of it.