Now that Beijing has bid the world zai jien, it's aboot time to brush up on your Canadian, eh?

The Olympics return to North America in 2010, specifically to Vancouver, British Columbia, a city only one time zone and 975 miles from 2002 Winter Games host Salt Lake City.

The countdown to Vancouver began as the Bird's Nest exploded in fireworks Sunday, closing the umbrella on the 2008 Summer Games. No more swimming, running and gymnastics. The Winter Games — think skating, skiing and sliding — are less than 18 months away.

"It will be here before we know it," said Salt Lake attorney Randy Dryer, a former Salt Lake Organizing Committee member.

Utahns have long since recovered from their Olympic hangover. But their proximity to Vancouver might give them cause to take off and party anew in the land of Mounties, maple leafs and Barenaked Ladies.

"I think the Olympic fever still exists, especially here in Utah," said Jeremy Holm, an American bobsledder and Morris Murdock Travel media relations manager.

"It's amazing to see how many people are watching the Beijing Olympics," he said. "I think it's going to be the same thing when Vancouver comes."

The Winter Games have a built-in fan base in Utah made up of thousands of 2002 volunteers and officials many of whom still don their Olympic jackets when the weather turns cold. Utahns also are big on winter sports as participants and spectators.

Murray resident Susan Kempff, who worked as a volunteer and luge official in 2002, already has Vancouver on her mind.

"I'm really excited about it. I'm really looking forward and hoping to go," she said, adding she'd like to be there as an official but maybe more as a spectator this time.

Having seen winter sports up close, she finds the Winter Olympics more appealing than the Summer. "Seeing it live is so much better than seeing it on TV," said Kempff, also an avid pin trader.

Statements like that bode well for local travel agencies. Salt Lake is "definitely going to have travel potential," Holm said.

Tourism British Columbia sees it that way, too. It's marketing campaign aimed at the West will hit TV and the Internet next spring. "That whole area is incredibly important to us," said Janice Greenwood-Fraser, travel-media specialist.

Besides being close to Vancouver, travelers won't face a language barrier or roundabout flights to the Great White North. All they'll need are tickets, which go on sale in October, and a tuque.

Morris Murdock intends to offer travel packages during the games as well as guided tours before and after, Holm said.

Utah not only will supply tourists to Vancouver but will be a competitor pipeline as well.

With its Olympic venues in Park City and Kearns, the state will play a key role for national and international athletes gearing up for gold-medal runs in 2010. Of the 200 U.S. athletes who competed in the 2006 Torino Games, 66 trained in the Beehive State.

"The interesting dynamic is us being, if you will, a stopping point on the way to Vancouver," said Colin Hilton, president of the Utah Athletic Foundation, which manages the state's Olympic facilities.

World Cup events in long- and short-track speedskating, freestyle skiing and bobsled and skeleton are planned for both 2008 and 2009.

Also, teams from around the world will create home bases in Utah in early 2010 to practice and make final preparations for the games, Hilton said.

Utah also has other connections to Vancouver.

Hilton estimates at least two dozen people who helped stage the Salt Lake Olympics work as consultants for the Vancouver Organizing Committee.

Fraser Bullock, former SLOC chief operating officer, serves on the International Olympic Committee's coordination commission, which keeps tabs on venue preparations. Also, former SLOC director of sport Cathy Priestner Allinger works as an executive vice president for VANOC.


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