Backers of Salt Lake City's bid for the 2002 Winter Games gave themselves an early Christmas present Friday, by having Santa Claus appear on the city's behalf before some 800 Olympic officials meeting in Atlanta.

Delegates to the meeting of the Association of National Olympic Committees and members of the International Olympic Committee Executive Board were startled but apparently delighted by the stunt.The man in the bright red suit adorned with a Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games pin popped into the meeting during the city's scheduled presentation, offering support for the bid and wishing everyone a happy holiday season.

Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee President Tom Welch told the audience Salt Lake City is primarily interested in hosting the Winter Games for the benefit of its children, so they can grow up with a personal understanding of the Olympic ideals.

Each of the nine cities competing for the 2002 Winter Games was scheduled to make presentations on their bids to the Olympic officials Friday. The International Olympic Committee will name the host city next June.