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UTAH JOINING EXCLUSIVE FRATERNITY

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Matt Roy took one look at the site of the proposed bobsled run and was instantly pleased.

"It mostly goes downhill," he said. "That's good."When you're a bobsledder and you're standing at the top of a new run, you're not going to be too picky. The world isn't exactly being overrun by bobsled runs. The executive director of the United States Bobsled Federation - which is Roy's title - doesn't wear himself out making appearances at groundbreaking ceremonies.

Yesterday's groundbreaking at the Utah Winter Sports Park rounded Roy's career total to a nice even one.

Naturally, he enjoyed himself immensely.

"We'll be here with a vengeance," he said, envisioning the facility's grand opening scheduled for December of 1995. Already, he said, the Bear Hollow run has been transformed via computer onto the U.S. Bobsled Team's dryland simulator - and, to a man, America's bobsledders have climbed out of the simulator with their thumbs up.

"From what we've seen in the simulator, and now looking at the terrain," said Roy. "It would seem like we've hit the mark."

Upon completion, Utah's bobsled (and luge) run will join a rather exclusive worldwide fraternity. We're not talking Jack Nicklaus golf courses here, or Taco Bell franchises. If bobsled runs were an animal you couldn't hunt them. They make peregrine falcons look plentiful. At the moment there are just 12 bobsled runs in the world.

The closest one to Bear Hollow is in Canada, at the Calgary Olympic Park, about 800 miles away. The next closest is in Lake Placid, New York, nearly 3,000 miles away, and it's in pretty sad shape, according to Roy. "Lake Placid is barely acceptable," he said. "The problem is it's outdated."

Lake Placid's track was built for the 1980 Olympic Winter Games and modeled after the 1967 design. There's nothing wrong with it that 27 years of remodeling couldn't fix.

Outside North America, there are 10 bobsled/luge runs. Germany easily leads the world with three, Italy has two, and France, Austria, Switzerland, Norway and Latvia have one each.

The only tracks qualifying for the alternate list include half a run in Sapporo, Japan, sight of the 1972 winter games; another half a run at the 1984 Olympic sight in Sarajevo, where bobsledding hasn't been a pastime for far too long; and several steep driveways in the Interlochen region of the Swiss Alps.

Nagano, Japan, has promised to build a bobsled/luge run for the 1998 winter games, but it isn't built yet.

Since of the dozen existing bobsled tracks in the world, eight of them have hosted Olympic competition.

Salt Lake City's Olympic bid organizers for the 2002 Games joined Roy yesterday in warmly welcoming the groundbreaking.

"No city has ever, at the time of its bid, delivered a complete winter city," said Bid Committee president Tom Welch.

Well, not until now.

Roy expressed hope that the Utah facility will herald a new era for U.S. bobsledding. With enough time and use, it could usher in a return of the glory years from the early days of the Olympic movement. In the first seven Olympic Winter Games, American sleds and sledders combined to win 13 medals - nearly two per Games - and five gold medals. In the seven Olympic Winter Games held since, American sleds and sledders have combined to win zero medals of any color.

It is probably not just a coincidence that the line of demarkation for the Medals era and the No Medals era is 1960. That was the year the Olympics came to Squaw Valley, Calif. - and the bobsled didn't.

For the first and only time in Olympic history, the International Olympic Committee waived bobsledding for the new resort in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, primarily because there was no bobsled track and Squaw Valley's developers didn't want to build one.

To fill out the program, women were allowed to speedskate in Squaw Valley for the first time in Olympic history.

Women speedskaters the world over have been grateful ever since.

But not bobsledders. "I'd have to say 1960 was the single biggest setback to bobsledding this country's ever had," said Roy, himself a 1988 Olympian.

By contrast, he said the Bear Hollow track "is the single biggest opportunity bobsledding's ever had."

"This," he said, gazing out at the pines and aspen trees through which the Utah track will weave, "is exactly what we need. I can't wait for the grand opening."