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Winter Olympics: Opportunity for SLC Residents to Showcase Their City - 2002-02-09

As the Winter Olympics get under way, the people of Salt Lake City look forward to showcasing their community to the world. After years of preparation, residents hope the 17 days of competition will bring some permanent dividends.

For local residents, the road to the Salt Lake City Olympics has been a rough one. In late 1998, allegations surfaced that members of the International Olympic Committee had accepted lavish gifts from members of the Salt Lake City organizing committee, who were determined to bring the Olympics to their city. What followed was the biggest scandal in the history of the modern Olympic games.

As the games begin, Olympic officials have largely put the scandal behind them, and attention is now focusing on the athletes. For the people of Salt Lake City, the Winter Olympics offer the chance to show their city to the world in a positive light.

And preparations for the games have made the city a better place, according to Utah governor Mike Leavitt. "Our roads are better, our railways are better," he said. "Our security systems are better. The service is better in our restaurants. Just like an athlete, when you work hard to execute a plan, you get better at it."

The Wasatch Mountains that surround Salt Lake City have some of the best ski resorts in the United States. And Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson stresses sites constructed for the games will enhance the city's stature as a sports center. "There is no question that with the building of some of the new facilities for winter sports competition, this Salt Lake City area will be the premier winter sports training and world competition venue in this country," he said. "The facilities are extraordinary and they're situated in unbelievably beautiful venues."

Just as important, Mr. Anderson says the publicity surrounding the games may help attract businesses the region.

Salt Lake City resident Rod Slater is skeptical that the games are worth the hundreds of million dollars in investment. He worries that the 70,000 people expected here each day at the games may not materialize and that the games could end up with a financial deficit.

"They may not come through because of terrorism and people are afraid to travel, afraid to fly," says Mr. Slater. "And we may not benefit from these Olympics nearly as much as we should have if they had been promoted correctly going in. And it's only after it's over that we'll really be able to tell. But going into them, we don't see nearly the turnout we should have had."

But with the games just now getting underway, officials say they expect no shortage of spectators.

Local officials say that just as important as the financial benefits, the Olympics are brining out residents to work together as volunteers, as they host athletes and visitors from all parts of the world. The Salt Lake City mayor says the international celebration is helping build a sense of pride in his community.