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IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME - BUT NOT IN THIS CENTURY

The Olympic Announcement party at the City & County Building yesterday ended abruptly at 12:28 p.m. No sooner did Juan Antonio Samaranch, the president of the International Olympic Committee who no more than six weeks ago was welcomed at the Salt Lake airport on a white carpet, announce from Birmingham that the 1998 Winter Games will be held in . . . Nagano, Japan . . . than everyone remembered they hadn't fed their parking meter.

Somehow, the Jay Welch Chorale came on stage after that and sang "The Impossible Dream" and Henry Marsh led a chant of "Two thousand and two," "Two thousand and two," without being drilled by snowballs. But the crowd was disappearing quickly, leaving behind several thousand "The World Is Welcome Here" T-shirts and posters that suddenly looked like bananas a week past their shelf life.Unless you were Alexis Kelner, this was not good news. After committing to $56 million worth of Olympic facilities, after treating the members of the IOC as

if they were rock stars, after finally figuring out where to put the speed-skating oval, after importing a pine forest to Birmingham, the IOC's answer was no thanks, not in this century.

Before Samaranch's announcement, the mood on Washington Square was different. More than a thousand people watched skiers ski down ramps and stop in some of the Greatest Snow on Earth that had been trucked in from Guardsman's Pass. They watched dancers from the Repertory Dance Theatre perform in front of the Olympic logo. They watched sky-divers. They ate pizza. They shot hoop-shoot baskets. They hung out as loosely as possible, waiting for Samaranch to rip open the edge of the envelope.

Then came the net result, which was the same as 25 years ago, when Sapporo, Japan, beat out Salt Lake for the right to host the 1972 Winter Games. Once again, the Wasatch Mountains lost to the Japanese Alps.

Or, more accurately, once again the Wasatch Mountains lost to the Olympic voting system and its political twists and turns.

In the wake of Birmingham, it's all over but trying to figure out the ballots.

In the first round, when all five cities were in contention, Sat Lake tied for last place with Aosta, Italy, getting 15 votes. Nagano led the voting with 21 votes, followed by Jaca, Spain, with 19 and Ostersund, Sweden, with 18. Only a tie-breaker vote (Salt Lake 59, Aosta 29) kept Salt Lake on the ballot, and dropped Aosta.Salt Lake, then, came within one vote of never making it to round two. Two years of extensive IOC lobbying, of showering delegates with gifts, of free room and board, of free airline flights, of free gondola rides, of plenty of compliments - and it accounted for a measly 15 first-ballot votes.

But that's not as hard to understand as what happened on the second ballot, with Nagano, Salt Lake, Ostersund and Jaca in the running.

Salt Lake inexplicably shot into second place with 27 votes (behind Nagano's 30), in front of Ostersund, with 25, and Jaca, with five.

Obviously, there was a lot of vote-changing that went on between ballots. Jaca's 19 supporters dwindled to five and Salt Lake became a contender, although neither one was able to throw even a single additional bribe an IOC delegate's way.

Then, in the third round, when Nagano got 36 votes, Salt Lake 29 and Ostersund 23, Ostersund went out the door wondering how it had managed, in the span of about 20 minutes and without having a chance to do anything socially unacceptable, to lose two supporters.

On the final ballot, Salt Lake got 13 of Ostersund's votes and Japan got 10, but that was still enough for Japan's 46-42 final advantage.

A lot of post-announcement analysis will undoubtedly conclude that Salt Lake's fate was sealed last September, when another American city, Atlanta, won the 1996 Summer Games bid - since rarely has the IOC held consecutive Olympic Games in the same country. But while the Atlanta Syndrome may indeed have contributed to Salt Lake's loss in a general way, the IOC voting doesn't reflect any kind of collective thinking or conspiratorial voting - just a lot of old rich guys trying to remember who gave them the Stetson hat.

Indeed, if the two absent IOC delegates - from Egypt and Saudi Arabia - had bothered to show up; and if they'd voted for Norman Schwarzkopf's home country; and if they'd persuaded one or two others to do the same, Salt Lake would be The Place and the vice squad would be getting a call about now concerning all the noise still going on at the City & County grounds.

As it is, all that's left on Washington Square is the echo from Lt. Governor Val Oveson's parting remark, "As Kevin Costner said, `If you build it, they will come.' "

But they didn't say when.