GRANTED. THERE'S BEEN grumbling, there's been scandal, there's been more than a little backbiting. Some people are still driving around the valley with "Say No to 2002" on the bumpers of their VW buses. Ignoring that we already said yes.
There's been secrecy, there's been worry about money, there's been more worry about money, there's been agony about beer. The mascot keeps getting delayed. The budget keeps getting delayed. Overseers from the IOC come to town like your mom coming into your room looking for lint. Anita DeFrantz blows in and scolds us. Leave the local organizers alone, she says, let them do their job. Environmentalists have risen up. So have animal rights activists. Animal rights activists!Man, did we need a visit from Picabo Street!
You remember Picabo. World's best skier. The scourge of Europe. Child of hippies. Silver medal in Lillehammer. Gold medal in Nagano. Came back from a shattered left knee to get the gold. Then shattered her right knee two weeks later in Switzerland. Career now on hold while knee geniuses try to figure something out.
When the Salt Lake bid triumph was announced three years ago in Budapest and that table broke on stage? Picabo was jumping on it. Picabo can ski. Picabo can celebrate. World-class, either way. If she wasn't so good at ski racing, she could have made a million by now delivering animated birthday telegrams.
They trotted Picabo Street out at the Olympic Forum yesterday at the Salt Palace. She came on stage just after the governor. The governor had done a nice job of putting things on a positive plane. He spoke in glowing terms of our Olympic legacy, our golden opportunity. He introduced young prospective Utah Olympians, who appeared on stage, right on cue. Slick. Very slick. He wore a bobsled helmet. He talked of "maximizing this experience." But, still, he was the governor.
Then came Picabo. Down went the tele-prompters. Down went the cue cards. She walked out there in sweater and pants, the most casual person in the Salt Palace, spoke for maybe four minutes and sat down, and just like that the Olympics had new life and a new name.
As in "Everybody's gonna come, and everybody's gonna know what a phat scene we've got here."
I'm not saying the term "phat scene" didn't fly over a few heads in the audience, which was comprised chiefly of politicians, sponsors, prospective sponsors and people like that. But if the exact scientific definition was lost, the tone wasn't. Picabo Street was up there saying, Hey! These are the Olympics!
Or, as she put it, "The setting here is gorgeous! We don't need to change a thing! All we have to do is put a smile on and welcome the world!"
Even the microphone got excited and started talking back.
"We've gotta show 'em how much we love this place!" she said. "Just open our arms and show them what we've got! How much we love each other!"
A wave was ready to break out. You could just feel it. But then Picabo sat back down.
She's never been an actual wear-the-uniform, wave-the-pom-poms cheerleader. Never could find the time. But that doesn't mean she never wanted to be.
Just the other day, she was at her old high school in Idaho, Wood River High, watching a football game. Her art teacher helps design her helmets. She remembers her roots. Anyway, she's at the game. The football players pass her and whisper, "Ohmygosh, it's her," and go out and play all the harder. Her attention goes to the cheerleaders. "I know all the cheers," she says. "I never did them, but I know them. And they're doing them and nobody's cheering and I thought, "Man, I'd like to go over there and get this crowd going!"
Their loss, our gain.