When the Winter Olympics come to Utah in the year 2002, Utah County residents might feel a little like the hundreds of thousands of spectators that the Games will attract.
Instead of heading out the back door to watch some competition, Utah County residents will have to travel to Ogden, Salt Lake City or Park City. No events or venues are planned for Utah County.Many feel shortchanged and say a venue was promised by Olympic organizers when they campaigned for taxpayers' dollars in 1989 to help build Olympic facilities. Utah County has been the second-largest contributing county to the $59 million fund, yet none of that money is being spent on a facility in Utah County.
Regardless of whether promises were made, Olympic officials say keeping the Games in the proximity of Salt Lake City was essential in landing the bid for the 2002 Winter Games. In recent years, the International Olympic Committee has shown more concern about the athletes' welfare, and they don't want them traveling far from the Olympic Village, planned for the University of Utah.
Several of those bidding for the Games were prepared to use the proximity-of-venues issue against Utah's bid. Had the Salt Lake Organizing Committee included a venue in Utah County, it might have jeopardized the bid.
"That would have been very detrimental to us," organizing committee spokesman Mike Korologossaid.
Still, some Utah County residents believe that somehow a local venue could have been worked in there. According to a recent poll conducted for the Deseret News by Dan Jones & Associates, 42 percent of Utah County residents think the county did not get a legitimate shot at a venue.
However, the poll also shows that 34 percent of residents don't know if Utah County was treated fairly in the venue selection.
A similar poll conducted two years ago, prior to the bid being awarded, showed a majority of Utah County residents support Utah's Olympic efforts whether Utah County has a venue or not.
Many want to be a part of the Games, and some just want the Olympics to leave something behind that benefits the community.
Korologos said Utah County's role is still vital to the Games. Olympic officials will depend heavily on Brigham Young University for personnel to run the Games. The university will provide translation services needed by the thousands of foreign athletes and visitors.
The county will also play an important economic role. Many of those attending the Games will be lodged in Utah County motels, will shop in Utah County stores and eat in Utah County restaurants.
"You'll be housing guests from all over the world," Korologos said.
Olympic officials hope communities throughout the state feed off the Olympic atmosphere to create their own unique celebrations and events - kind of like cities did for the state centennial celebration.
"We're kind of looking to the communities to drum up their own activities," Korologos said.
Even though there is no Utah County venue, the Olympics will leave local residents with a facility. After about four years of negotiating and planning, it appears an Olympic ice facility with two rinks will be constructed at Seven Peaks Resort. Construction will begin this spring, and the facility should be open in about a year.
Originally the Olympic organizing committee pledged to give $3 million from Olympic revenues toward the rink in the year 1999. In exchange, local officials must turn the facility over to the organizing committee for about four weeks in February 2002 for use as a practice rink for athletes.
Officials from Provo and Utah County didn't want to wait until 1999 to build the facility and convinced Olympic officials to let them borrow the $3 million so construction could begin sooner.
The Utah Sports Authority, the group overseeing the $59 million Olympic facility fund, agreed to give Utah County officials more than $700,000, and the organizing committee chipped in $500,000 to cover the interest on the $3 million. The organizing committee will repay the $3 million loan after the 2002 Winter Games are over. To complete the financing on the $7 million facility, Provo and Utah County will contribute $2 million each.
Local officials have strong feelings that Utah County deserves a venue, but haven't pushed their argument so as not to risk getting financing for the ice rink. However, they have worked quietly behind the scenes on a proposed venue for cross country and biathlon events.
The county and Provo have spent about $20,000 on a proposal for a cross country and biathlon facility near Squaw Peak Trial at the mouth of Provo Canyon. The site is endorsed by many experts and would remain a permanent facility after the Games are over.
However, the organizing committee hasn't given the proposal much consideration and is currently planning on constructing the cross country and biathlon venue near Little Dell Reservoir in Parleys Canyon. Because of environmental concerns, the Little Dell site has not be finalized.
"We do not at this time have an alternate site," Korologos said.
Utah County has also been mentioned as a possible site for demonstration sports. That possibility now looks dim after the IOC said it is moving towards eliminating dem-on-stra-tion sports.
Even though Utah County residents have contributed the secondmost to the costs of Olympic facilities, they will someday get that money back. After the Games are complete, the organizing committee plans to buy the facilities from the Utah Sports Authority and return the $59 million to cities. Provo officials say they will use the city's portion to repay the debt on the ice rink.
Deseret News poll
In your opinion, was Utah County given a legitimate opportunity to have a venue in the 2002 Winter Olympics?
PROBABLY NOT 16%
DEFINITELY NOT 26%
DON'T KNOW 34%
This poll of 401 Utah County residents was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates Nov. 17 - Dec. 2. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent. Copyright 1996 Deseret News