Just in time for the 10th anniversary of the Salt Lake City Olympics of 2002, a new book has come out about the bid scandal that preceded those Games.
Titled "Tarnished Rings, The International Olympic Committee and the Salt Lake City Bid Scandal," the book is the product of three Canadian university professors: Stephen Wenn, Robert Barney and Scott Martyn, whose primary purpose, it would seem at first reading, is to make sure Richard Pound, the Canadian IOC vice president who at the time of the scandal was put in charge of damage control by the IOC, emerges as the saga's hero.
Using Pound's personal archives as a primary source, the authors rehash what transpired in 1998 after the media took the IOC to task for a portion of its members accepting excessive gifts and handouts from the Salt Lake bid committee during the course of its lobbying for the 2002 Winter Games.
It's all there. It starts with Channel 4's Chris Vanocur going public with the news that the daughter of IOC delegate Rene Essomba from Cameroon had been given a college scholarship by Salt Lake bidders and goes on to chronicle the resignation or expulsion of 20 IOC members, the total restructuring of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee and the reformations that followed, including the cancellation of future bid-city visits by the IOC rank and file that all these years later is still in effect.
But while reviewing such events, for Utahns in general, is like going back and re-living an avalanche. There are two Salt Lakers who still might want to buy up several copies of "Tarnished Rings" and pass them around to their friends.
Tom Welch and Dave Johnson.
The two men singled out and roundly vilified at the height of the scandal are given much better treatment here.
The book agrees that in all their bidding exuberance, Welch and Johnson really were — as they steadfastly insisted at the time — only going where others had gone and doing what others had done.
"At its heart," the authors write in the book's introduction, "this is the story of an organization (the IOC) that found itself caught in the throes of a crisis facilitated by its own shortcomings in failing to confront the festering problems with the bidding process. Richard Pound conceded that a crisis such as the one that emerged in Salt Lake City percolated for years."
Toward the end of the book, the authors come to this summation:
"In their use of gifts to lure IOC member votes, Tom Welch and David Johnson did not break new ground, and in protesting their innocence of any wrongdoing and stating to reporters during their own trial proceedings that they had merely played the game, they did not fade the truth."
What a difference 14 years makes.
The book does not dwell on Welch and Johnson. Its focus is the IOC, not the SLOC. Even their acquittal in federal court when judge David Sam dismissed the criminal case against Welch and Johnson on the grounds that there were no grounds is given rather scant attention.
But in making the case that the IOC was the architect of its own nightmare, starting in 1984 when Los Angeles organizer Peter Ueberroth made the Olympics profitable again, the book makes the same case the Salt Lake bidders made.
After Ueberroth, "the competitive environment of the Olympic bid process intensified," write Wenn, Barney and Martyn. "In their quest to win the favor of IOC members, some bid committees elected to offer inducements ranging widely in terms of both value and variety. And some IOC members 'cashed in' on their status. … The proliferation of this gift-giving culture, which also invited the intervention of self-styled Olympic agents who promised IOC member votes in exchange for employment as big consultants, established a festering crisis that exploded in Salt Lake City."
That's exactly what Welch and Johnson said in 1998.
Only back then, no one was listening.
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday.
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