- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY The Olympics are difficult to pull off under normal circumstances. These are not normal circumstances.
The 2002 Winter Games get under way here tonight in an atmosphere made edgy by the September 11 terrorist attacks and with officials hoping that the start of competition finally will allow an embarrassing bribery scandal and criticism of these Olympics' unprecedented cost to be forgotten.
Anxiety remained high on the eve of the opening ceremony, despite a security effort that cost $320 million and includes a force of 16,000. A poll released two weeks ago showed that nearly one-third believed a terrorist attack was likely during the Games.
Armed soldiers will patrol the grounds and helicopters the skies when athletes march into Rice-Eccles Stadium for the opening ceremony that will be attended by President Bush, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and three other heads of state. Sniper teams will be positioned on nearby roofs. Flights in and out of Salt Lake City International Airport will be halted for four hours.
Government officials cautioned that, while they are confident of security, there are no guarantees. "Our efforts can go to minimize, not eliminate, risk," Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt said.
Police yesterday eliminated one threat, detonating a "suspicious device" a grocery bag filled with fuses and electrical wire that was found near the Olympics media center.
Despite the concern, 55,000 spectators are expected to attend the ceremony, waiting in long lines to have their belongings searched and pass through metal detectors . The Games include more than 2,500 athletes from 77 countries and are expected to draw about 80,000 spectators a day for their 17-day run.
Security is just the latest problem of these Olympics, which are still suffering from the hangover of a bribery scandal that rocked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and from criticism of the Games' unprecedented cost.
The Salt Lake Olympic Committee (SLOC) spent almost $2 billion on the Games easily the most expensive Winter Olympics ever prompting gasps even in an organization known for excessive spending. "I don't know how they're spending so much. It's the Winter Games, for gosh sakes," IOC member Dick Pound said in December.
Worse was the bribery scandal.
SLOC organizers spent more than $1 million on bribes and kickbacks to IOC members to secure the votes that brought the Games to their city. IOC officials say efforts have been made to reduce past excesses, such as decreasing the number of staff and guests delegates bring to the Games.
Still, the IOC is spending $1.3 million to put up delegates and families in a luxurious Salt Lake City hotel called "Little America." Anita DeFrantz, a U.S. delegate, was asked if the hotel was less opulent than those of past Olympics. "My hotel room is almost the size of my house," she said.
SLOC President Mitt Romney this week made what he hopes will be the final reference to the scandal. "We stumbled badly, but we got back up after falling down," he said in a report to the IOC.
That prompted IOC director Francois Carrard to declare the scandal and discussion of it to be over.
"Everyone is trying to focus on the Games," said Mr. Carrard.
Try as it might, the IOC has not been able to avoid controversy. It refused to let American athletes carry in the opening ceremony a flag that was recovered from the ruins of the World Trade Center. The criticism that followed prompted a compromise: a special honor guard of athletes, police officers and firefighters who will carry the flag in a separate ceremony after the parade.
The flag debate in turn prompted complaints from international quarters that the Games will focus too much on American patriotism.
"America has a great ego, but the games are not America's games," said Gianni Merlo, who heads Olympic coverage for Italy's La Gazzetta Dello Sport. "Perhaps with these games America will begin to understand that it's only a part of humankind."
Said DeFrantz: "Every country in the IOC has issues. As Americans, we have to understand it's a world event and also that we are a guest even though we are the host nation."
But United States Olympic Committee (USOC) officials made no apologies for any such displays.
"The Olympics doesn't mean you can't be patriotic," President Sandy Baldwin said. "It doesn't mean you can't be proud of your own country."
Despite IOC complaints, tonight's opening ceremony will have a distinctly American flavor. Eight U.S. athletes will join police officers and firefighters to carry the flag into the stadium and raise it, while the national anthem plays. That likely will be the ceremony's defining moment.
Amy Peterson, a four-time Olympic short-track speed skater from Ballston Spa, N.Y., was selected by her teammates to carry the flag. Jim Shea Jr., who is competing in the skeleton, was picked to give the Athlete's Oath. His late grandfather, Jack Shea, had the same honor when the Games were held in Lake Placid in 1932. Mr. Shea was killed last month in an automobile accident.
USOC officials are hoping that the patriotism and the home-field advantage will translate into victories and finally let these Olympics escape the shadow of scandal and controversy. They set a target of 20 medals for these Games a dramatic increase from their best previous total of 13.
"I am very optimistic," Baldwin said.
For the athletes, it is not the controversy that counts, but just the chance to finally compete.
"It's a dream to be here," said Jeremy Bloom, an American moguls competitor. "This is it"
This article is based in part on wire service reports

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