Thousands of Utahns stood for hours Saturday evening in deep-freeze temperatures to see the flame re-ignited in the elegant Olympic caldron — and to have their memories of the 2002 Winter Games rekindled as well.

"I was a volunteer and I wanted to relive it. It was great," Brian Fowers of Roy said after the show, which ended with a spectacular 22-minute fireworks display over the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Fowers, a civilian employee at Hill Air Force Base, volunteered during the Paralympic Games for disabled athletes that followed the Olympics. Holding his 18-month-old son, Josh, Fowers said the evening made him feel his efforts were appreciated.

"We wanted to go out with one big bang," Salt Lake Organizing Committee President Fraser Bullock said of the event — titled "The Fire Still Burns" — held on 500 South in front of the new Olympic Cauldron Park still under construction next to the stadium.

Much of the night was devoted to thanking volunteers and included appearances by Gov. Mike Leavitt, Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Olympians like U.S. bobsled medalist Brian Shimer.

The community, said Shimer, "welcomed us with open arms."

Said Anderson: "We now have the reputation in Salt Lake City as being the warmest, most hospitable and most gracious hosts because of what all of you did."

The speeches were punctuated by short films highlighting everything from the torch relay that brought the Olympic flame from Greece to the stadium a year ago to the behind-the-scenes work of the tens of thousands of volunteers.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge sent a taped message from IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, once again proclaiming that Salt Lake City gave the world "superb" Games.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney also appeared only on videotape but received a huge cheer from the crowd anyway. The former SLOC president, in town Friday to unveil the Games' new Wall of Honor, had to leave Utah early after the Bush Administration put the nation on a heightened terror alert.

The caldron was lit toward the end of an evening that began for many in the audience even before a 5 p.m. gathering of volunteers. The street, closed to traffic, filled long before the main hourlong program got under way at 6:30 p.m.

Bullock estimated that as many as 20,000 people came to the party, which cost about $700,000 in SLOC profits. Don't look for a repeat performance in 2004, though.

"We blew our budget this year," Bullock said. "This is it."

Organizers did pull out all the stops on Saturday, bringing back the Children of Light from the Games' opening and closing ceremonies to help light the caldron. The fireworks display was twice as large as the one during the Feb. 8 opening ceremonies in the stadium.

The flame will flicker for 17 days, just as it did during the Olympics. Bullock said organizers are still considering just how it will be extinguished on Feb. 24. At the Games, the caldron went out during the closing ceremonies in the stadium.

Nine-year-old Davis Pope said it was much more frightening to perform in front of Saturday's crowd than it was to be a skating "Child of Light" in the opening and closing ceremonies, which were seen by more than 3 billion people around the world.

Why? This time he could see the faces in the crowd, which was pressed against the stage instead of in the stadium stands. "Terrifying," said Pope, who was still wearing his white furry costume after the show. "Too much people."

Another "Child of Light," Blake Bezzant, 13, of Sandy, said she had more fun Saturday night. "I didn't take it as seriously," she said. "It was easier."

For many, the celebration was a chance to renew friendships made during the Games.

Nikki Anderson of Bear River met one of her closest friends while volunteering last year, Wendy Nielsen of North Ogden. They came together Saturday, with their children.

"I miss the Olympics," Anderson said.

Not everyone at the celebration was an Olympic volunteer. Steve and Chris Bailey of Perry came with several family members after spending the day watching World Cup speedskating at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns.

Their son, Kurt, 9, took a lot of pictures during the show. "I spent one whole roll in the first 10 minutes, easy," he said. His reaction to the evening's entertainment?

"Whoa. Wow. Whatever."


E-mail: [email protected]