It doesn't really seem fair.

Just when University of Utah football coach Ron McBride finally found some football turf that kept its roots and didn't come up in chunks, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee ripped it up.

It had been difficult for McBride's crew to find a field that was usable. In fact, two years ago the sod at Rice-Eccles Stadium was the laughingstock of college football. When players ran, the grass came up in chunks, and by season's end the field crew wouldn't even try to replace the sod, they just picked up the divots.

Last year, however, U. officials, searching for a solution, found a new turf that held and aided McBride's running attack.

"I thought the field was in terrific shape last year," McBride said. "I really liked the grass they put in there. The roots held and everything."

But now, McBride's turf is gone, an Olympic casualty as Rice-Eccles Stadium is molded into Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium — host to the opening and closing ceremonies and center stage for the 3.5 billion viewers SLOC expects to watch both shows.

In its place is a massive ice rink and hundreds of square feet of asphalt, all part of the ceremonies stage.

By the time work is completed, remaking the stadium into an Olympic venue will have taken nearly 90 days, countless manpower hours, hundreds of feet of decorative wrap and miles of refrigeration cable.

Creating an Olympic stadium

When the dust clears — sometime before the Feb. 8 opening ceremonies — the stadium will have evolved from a 45,000-seat football stadium into a 55,000-seat theater that will be seen by 27 times more people than watched last year's Super Bowl.

The three football scoreboards at the south end, northwest corner and northeast corner all have been removed.

The massive south-end scoreboard, which had to be cut in two and lowered with a crane, has been replaced by the Olympic caldron — a 71-foot spire of twisting glass and medal. Surrounding the caldron will be dozens of "protocol" flags representing the nations competing in Salt Lake City.

In place of the other two scoreboards are a pair of huge video screens in the stadium's northwest and southeast corners that will show live footage of the event inside the arena.

Roughly 10,000 temporary seats have been added to the south and north seating.

Then there's the stenciling "Salt Lake 2002. Light the Fire Within" in the stadium's western windows — a project that took a team of artists 10 days to complete.

Added to that are the miles of refrigeration piping laid to support the massive skating rink that occupies the lion's share of the former football field.

There's hundreds of lights placed in track theatrical lighting across the entirety of the stadium's top. Accompanying the lighting is space for 1,000 video cameras. Magnetometers are also being set at all spectator entrances.

"It's hard to say that anything really prepares you for it," said Ron Cameron, the stadium's general manager for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. "There's so many elements that you can't possibly think of all of them over time."

Ripping up Ron's field

Maybe the thing organizers were least prepared for was McBride's turf.

Salt Lake Organizing Committee President Mitt Romney recalled the field was the single-largest hurdle organizers encountered when changing the football stadium into Olympic stadium.

It seems, Romney said, most college football fields, including the one at Rice-Eccles, are crowned in the middle so that rain will slope off to either side, keeping the playing surface dry.

Thus, when workers first tried to install the rink, they discovered a daunting problem. They couldn't, after all, have an ice sheet with a crown in the middle.

The football field had to be leveled, and in place of the grass there is now asphalt. Under that asphalt there are thousands of feet of cable, a plastic layer and miles of refrigeration piping.

When the Games end, organizers will have to rip up the asphalt and replace the green turf — hopefully with one that doesn't come up in chunks.

The football field is just one of many Olympic sacrifices the University of Utah made when it offered Rice-Eccles to the Olympics.

However, the publicity of having 3.5 billion viewers see the stadium and take note of the campus is worth most any sacrifice, U. Vice President Fred Esplin said.

Students have sacrificed for the publicity, giving up hundreds of parking stalls at the stadium and dealing with the closure of South Campus Drive, which is now filled with 6,000 temporary seats for ceremonies spectators.

The inconveniences have added to an already abysmal traffic and parking problem at the U.

Deseret News graphicDNews  graphicRice-Eccles StadiumRequires Adobe Acrobat.

But while inconvenient to students and faculty, the transformation has been equally difficult for Cameron and his crew who took control of the stadium Nov. 12 and have been busy ever since.

Maybe most taxing is snow removal.

Cameron has been forced to designate at least 50 people for full-time snow removal. After a major storm, removing Utah powder from the stadium can take weeks.

Front-end loaders, skids, snow shovels and dump trucks are designated for trucking the powder off the work site.

"There's a lot of snow, and we have to find ways to get it out of here," Cameron said.

If it snows during one of the ceremonies there is an on-call crew of 400 that can be summoned in a moment to clear the white stuff. In total, there will be 3,000 people doing behind-the-scenes work like construction for the ceremonies, Cameron said.

Opening ceremonies secrets

Already thousands have seen parts or all of the ceremonies, which are produced by Don Mischer. Since the ceremony is top secret, those who have caught glimpses have been asked to sign confidentiality agreements.

Still, some secrets will leak out.

The Deseret News has learned, for instance, that, as in opening ceremonies past, the crowd at Rice-Eccles will receive packages stuffed with goodies.

Included in those packages, which come with the $885 and $325 tickets, are a variety of small flutes.

The flutes are different sizes, and each size produces a different pitch. Each size is colored, so, for instance, the red flutes have one pitch while yellow flutes have another.

The audience will be asked to play their individual flutes as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings during the ceremonies.

When yellow lights point toward the choir, the yellow flutes will sound. When red lights come on, red flutes play, and so on.

Besides the flutes, opening ceremonies spectators will be given a cushion pad, poncho, hand warmers, facial tissue, a flashlight, lip balm and a pair of programs, one for the ceremonies and another for the sporting events.

As for the ceremony itself, 98 percent of the 4,000-member cast will be Utahns. The remaining 2 percent hail from Arizona, Colorado, California and Washington.

One of the Utahns, April Nelson, will become "Miss Kitty" for the opening ceremonies.

Nelson, a 52-year-old dance instructor who teaches tap to adult pupils, says ceremonies organizers gave every character a name so that when they are not dancing, performers can have a character in mind and portray that character on the stage.

"I'm too old to be doing this but it's sure fun," Nelson said. "It was a total shock to be picked. I had no idea they would have room for old people."

Like the rest of the ceremonies performers, Nelson has been attending two practices a week since Thanksgiving. The 4-hour-long sessions can get nippy, but organizers distribute hot chocolate and hand warmers.

And while Nelson continues to practice for the big show, Cameron's crew continues to slave — shoveling snow, hoisting cameras and adding security measures to make McBride's football stadium into an arena of Olympic proportions.


Spectator goodie packet

INCLUDES:

cushion pad

poncho

hand warmers

facial tissue

flashlight

lip balm

flute

cue card

program book

events guide


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