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Salt Lake City Winter Olympics - A Huge Success

A scandal that tainted the Winter Olympics figure skating competition almost overshadowed the breakthrough performance of a New York teenager in the ladies final. Canada captured gold in both men's and women's ice hockey while an American team won the first ever women's bobsled title. The specter of drug use left a bad taste on the final day of the games, but tight security made sure that fans and athletes enjoyed a safe Olympics.

The Salt Lake City Games opened less than five months after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. There had been some thought of canceling the Games but those thoughts were quickly dismissed.

Organizers had gone to the U.S. Congress to ask for an additional $40 million more for security preparations. In the end, more than one quarter of the $1.9 billion spent to put on the Games went to protecting the public and the athletes.

Just before the Olympics began, United States and International Olympic Committee officials reached an agreement for the February 8 opening ceremonies to display the tattered U.S. flag that was recovered from the World Trade Center. President Bush was also there to greet the world and show that the USA could host a large-scale international event despite the devastation of the World Trade Center and the damage to the Pentagon. "On behalf of a proud, grateful, and determined nation, I declare open the games of Salt Lake City celebrating the Olympic Winter Games," announced President Bush.

American slider Jimmy Shea, the first third-generation U.S. Olympian, administered the athletes' oath. In an ironic twist, some of those who swore to compete without drugs or other illegal assistance would later lose Olympic gold medals because of drug cheating.

The first medals of the games were awarded in cross-country skiing, with Italian veteran Stefania Belmondo winning the first 15 kilometer event in the Olympics with a mass start. Russian Larissa Lazutina, who would later lose the gold medal in the 30 kilometer freestyle race because of doping, won the silver.

The first U.S. medal - a silver - went to freestyle skier Shannon Bahrke in women's moguls skiing at Deer Valley, Utah. Norway's Kari Traa won the gold.

The first world record of the Games fell on the first day of men's speed skating. American Derek Parra broke it in the 5,000 meters, but then Dutchman Jochem Uytdehaage bettered Parra's mark to win the gold medal in 6:14.66 (minutes).

Soon thereafter it was the pairs figure skating event that would become the main focus of the Winter Olympics. The figure skating venue provided one of the two major scandals that tainted the Games, when a judging scandal involving a reputed Russian crime figure, a French judge and the head of the French Federation captured the spotlight.

The Russian couple Elena Brezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze was awarded the gold medal even though many at the Ice Center and in the worldwide television audience thought Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier should have been awarded the gold. Sale said at the time that she and Pelletier should have been the winners. "Well, obviously everybody's got their own judge judging for them," said Jamie Sale. "And you hope they are going to give it to whoever, may the best man win or the best team win. And you hope that they will give it to that team on that night and we were definitely the best team last night."

French judge Marie Rene Le Gougne at first said she had been pressured to vote for the Russian pairs couple in exchange for a Russian judge's vote for a French couple in the ice dancing. Le Gougne later recanted her statement, but by year's end she and French Skating Federation head Didier Gailhaguet would be banned from all International Skating Union events for three years.

Sale and Pelletier were later awarded a duplicate set of gold medals. Later in the year, a reputed Russian crime figure, Alimzhan Takhtokhounov was indicted for trying to fix the skating results. As of this writing, he remains in jail in Italy awaiting extradition to the United States.

The scandal also led to a revamping of the judging in international figure skating events. ISU head Ottavio Cinquanta said the new judging system would prevent the kind of abuses that took place in Salt Lake City. "The judges watch [the skating], the judges express their opinion," he said. "The judges read, they know already the program two days before. And all this is registered so we may control the judges."

The women's figure skating title went to a relatively unknown teenager from Great Neck, New York. 16-year-old Sarah Hughes skated arguably the best ladies' long program in years to surpass favorites Michelle Kwan of the United States and Irina Slutskaya of Russia to win the gold. Hughes said afterward that many people underestimated her desire and her talent. "Basically a lot of people made it a competition between two other people, not me included," said Sarah Hughes. "And I did not even think that it would be possible, so just to be sitting here and to have this medal around my neck, is something that I am not really, I never thought would happen."

Russian Alexei Yagudin won the men's figure skating gold medal with his Man in the Iron Mask routine.

Cross country skiing would provide the other major scandal of the games when two Russians - Larissa Lazutina and Olga Danilova - and Spain's Johann Muehlegg were stripped of gold medals after testing positive for an endurance-enhancing drug.

Lazutina lost the gold medal in the women's 30 kilometer cross country event, while Muehlegg was stripped of the men's 50 k classic race. All three were allowed to keep medals they won earlier in the Olympics before the positive tests. All three then received bans, and the bans were upheld on appeal.

There was also a major story in women's Alpine skiing. A diminutive Croatian who had undergone three knee operations - Janica Kostelic - proved to be her country's heroine. Kostelic took three of the five gold medals available - in the slalom, giant slalom, and the combined event - and became the first alpine skier to win four medals in a single Games, also winning a silver in the super giant slalom

Daniella Ceccarelli of Italy edged Kostelic for the gold in the Super-G, and France's Carole Montillet won the downhill.

Kostelic said after winning the slalom that she was excited to take home her country's first Olympic gold medal. "It's a great thing," said Daniella Kostelic. "Well I am the first medallist - well second so far - for Croatia. The first was for Yugsolavia and the second was for Croatia. So this was the first medal for Croatia. And I am really proud of it."

The men's downhill went to an Austrian, but not the one everyone expected - World Cup champion Stephan Eberharter. Instead it was 29-year-old policeman Fritz Strobl who took the gold. Eberharter finished with the bronze. However, he would come back to win gold in the giant slalom and silver in the super giant slalom. Norway's Kjetil Andre Aaomdt took two Alpine golds - in the super giant slalom and the combined event.

The best event for the United States proved to be in halfpipe snowboarding. Kelly Clark captured the women's event for the first U.S. gold medal of the Salt Lake City Olympics. Then the U.S. men swept the halfpipe medals, with gold, silver, and bronze going respectively to Ross Powers, Danny Kass, and Jarrett Thomas.

In speed skating, the Utah Olympic Oval's high altitude and superior cooling system was reputed to make it the fastest ice in the world, and the times proved that was no boast. In addition to Uytdehaage's world record in the men's 1,000 meters, Germany's Claudia Pechstein set a new world mark in the women's 5,000 meters (6:46.91).

American Chris Witty won gold in the women's 1,000 meters while Canada's Catriona LeMay Doan won the 500 meters and Pechstein took the 3000 meters. Another German, Anni Friesinger, won the women's 1,500 meters.

In men's speed skating, American Derek Parra won the men's 1,500 meters and became the first Mexican-American winter Olympic gold medallist. Parra's teammate Casey FitzRandolph also took home gold, winning the men's 500 meters race.

Yochem Uytdehaage took home two gold medals from the oval, while his Dutch countryman Gerhard van Velde won the 1,000 meters.

Canada swept the ice hockey gold medals, beating the United States in both the men's and women's finals. The Canadians from the National (ice) Hockey League beat the U.S. men, 5-2, and the Canadian women edged the USA, 3-2.

The biathlon was defined by three words - Ole Einar Bjorndalen. The Norwegian skier won the men's 10 kilometer and 20 kilometer competitions and led Norway to the gold in the team event.

At the ski jumping venue, the attention was focused on a Swiss teenager who resembled the fictional Harry Potter character as Simon Ammann won both the K-90 and K-120 hill events. Germany took the team gold medal.

Germany won both the two-man and four-man bobsled gold medals while the inaugural women's two-person medal went to Americans Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers. Flower became the first-ever African-American to win a Winter Olympics gold medal.

American sliders took both the gold medals in skeleton, which returned to the Olympics after a 54-year absence. And American Jimmy Shea provided one of the most poignant moments in Salt Lake City. Shea's grandfather Jack Shea won two Olympic speed skating gold medals in Lake Placid in 1932, but was tragically killed by a drunken driver less than one month before the Salt Lake Games. Jimmy Shea carried his grandfather's gold medal with him when he went to receive the Salt Lake gold. Tristan Gale of the United States won the women's skeleton gold medal.

In the end, Germany gathered the most medals, 35, and the most gold with 12. The host USA was close behind in its best-ever Winter Olympics showing - 10 golds in its total of 34 medals. Despite the judging and drug controversies, the Games proved to be a huge success, and Salt Lake Organizing Committee head Mitt Romney praised the athletes at the closing ceremonies. "A dream that one day our children will live in peace," he said. "For 17 days we have lived that dream. Olympians we cheered all of you, not just our own. We saw in you the universal greatness of the human family. During these Games of 2002 you have shown us what the world can be and we love it. "

Romney would later use his success organizing the Olympics as a springboard to political office. He was elected Governor of Massachusetts in November. The Olympic Flame will next appear in Athens, Greece, the birthplace of the Games for the 2004 Summer Olympics.

Athens organizers continue to make progress toward hosting the 2004 Games, with IOC inspectors continually urging the Greek government not to allow construction to fall behind schedule.

Controversies still trouble the Athens organizers, with several venues planned for the Games replaced with temporary sites, an ongoing battle over the venue at the former Athens international airport, and accommodations still proving a challenge. However, Greek officials have assured the IOC that everything will be ready in time when the Summer Games open in 2004.