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OLYMPIC BID LEAVES UTAHNS HOLDING THEIR HEADS HIGH

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Salt Lake leaders say the city's success at winning the U.S. bid for the 1998 Winter Olympics two weeks ago has sunk in and has proved to be a big boost for the state's collective psyche.

The U.S. Olympic Committee chose Salt Lake City June 4 as its candidate to host the 1998 Winter Olympics. The International Olympic Committee will choose the actual Olympics host in 1991.Opinion polls show the Olympics hardly enjoy overwhelming support, especially when the issue of public funding is raised. But several Utah leaders believe the bid has left Utahns holding their heads high.

"People are feeling pretty good about Utah," Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis said. "I mean, we're not only a `pretty, great state' - the pretty has gone down the tube. We're all of the sudden a great state."

Prevailing over Denver, Reno-Lake Tahoe, Nev., and Anchorage, Alaska, in the Olympic bid thrust Salt Lake City into a limelight different from that of the past when the media often focused on Utah's idiosyncrasies.

"Suddenly, we're going to get press other than that focusing on religious zealots," said Fred Ball, Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce president.

"Masochistic Utahns," to use Ball's choice of words, are introspective to a fault, a weakness that Ball said the Olympics bid can correct.

"Utah people love to dwell on their blemishes instead of showcasing their pluses," he said. "If somehow the Olympic Games can make us feel good about ourselves, it would serve a great purpose."

On the other hand, many Olympic critics believe the Games, if they come to Utah, could have little effect, no effect or a negative effect on the state's image.

"Have you heard of Sapporo, Japan?" Olympic skeptic Gale Dick is fond of asking. Despite Sapporo having hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics, the city is hardly a household word.

What's more, Utah has never fared well on the front page of national newspapers, notes Dick, dean of University of Utah graduate schools. The state's taken its beating from national media for Utah's cold fusion experiments, for example.

Meanwhile, Deseret News/KSL News polls on the Olympics show little in the way of a solid coalition forming in favor of or against the state hosting the Olympic Games.

In a poll published last week, 68 percent of those surveyed support the Games. That's down from 76 percent in a February poll. Any political candidate would be concerned about that kind of slump in the polls.

Perhaps more significantly, a Deseret News poll last week showed only 45 percent of those surveyed support spending public money on the Games. Organizers have already budgeted $56 million in public expenditures for the Games.

Forty-four percent oppose use of tax dollars for the Olympics while 11 percent were undecided, the poll found.