Utah passed another important milestone this week in its pursuit of the 2002 Winter Olympics - and did so in a way that was particularly impressive and encouraging.

We're referring, of course, to the report from the Evaluation Commission of the International Olympic Committee regarding the relative merits of the nine cities seeking to host the games. Salt Lake City got high marks. But then that was to be expected since this state has an especially outstanding product to sell in terms of its facilities, geographical location and ability to host this international competition.Moreover, the dedicated people promoting the Utah bid are exceptionally enthusiastic and persistent. They have to be because the competition is tough. Though Salt Lake City seems to be the front-runner, an especially strong bid is being made by Quebec. Also getting favorable reviews from the IOC panel this week are Ostersund, Sweden and Sion, Switzerland.

If Salt Lake City doesn't get the bid, it still will win because of the favorable publicity Utah keeps generating throughout the world as a result of its long and energetic pursuit of the Winter Games.

But if the 2002 games do come to Utah, the achievement will be all the more impressive because of the strong competition this state had to surmount along the way.

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As the final decision on the site for the Winter Games nears, tensions are mounting. Up to a point, increasingly taut nerves are understandable. But if some Utahns aren't careful, their needless divisiveness can do the Utah bid more harm than the other competing cities can.

For one thing, repeated carping about the financing of the games doesn't tell the Utah promoters much, if anything, they don't already know and is largely misplaced anyway. The IOC Evaluation Commission praised the Salt Lake City financial plan as "excellent." Though some previous hosts have gone into the red, Utah can learn from their mistakes and shows signs of already having done so.

Even so, there's no reason for promoters to become hostile or even defensive. Those pointing out the undeniable challenges involved in hosting the Olympics should be treated as potential helpers, not implacable foes. Though opinion polls show public support has been fluctuating somewhat on this as on many other matters of public concern, Utah is still not only willing but eager to host the games. The fact that some communities have hosted the Winter Games more than once and still other communities and countries have sought to become repeat hosts should tell all Utahns something about the desirability of seeking the 2002 Olympics.

The bottom line is that the Winter Olympics can be good for Utah and Utah can be good for the Winter Olympics. Though the Deseret News is not blind to the difficulties involved in hosting the 2002 games, we support the bid as an opportunity to grow and to make new friends around the world. But then that stance seems to be no more than the way most Utahns feel on this subject.

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