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Midway celebrates an Olympic decision

Dismissed as a quixotic quest by its critics, champions of the campaign for a local venue during the 2002 Winter Olympics celebrated Thursday in advance of the biggest thing to hit town since rural electrification.

Five miles away in Heber City, the evening unfolded as usual. The only liquor store in the county closed five minutes early, ice cream sales were steady at Dairy Keen despite a sharp chill in the air, and the minarets on the rickety glockenspiel at the Alpine Lodge chimed the hour more or less on time.But at twilight across the valley in Midway, a cadre of perhaps 40 happy people gathered around candle-lighted tables to mark the day, toasting a victory over better connected and more influential rivals.

The meek shall inherit the Earth, and Midway - population 1,600 - will have the Olympics when they come to Utah in five years.

"We kept waiting for a haymaker to come out of right field and knock us out," laughed Court-land Nelson, the state parks director who was among advocates for bringing cross-country and alpine events to nearby Soldier Hollow, at Wasatch Mountain State Park.

"We had calls from competing factions telling us that we might as well give up because they had it" said McKay Edwards, one of two local pitchmen who weren't sure that Heber Valley had landed the Games even at the 11th hour this week.

In a conference call late Wednesday with Gov. Mike Leavitt's office and representatives of a rival bid from Sherwood Hills, a private resort at the edge of the Cache Valley, Edwards said he was unsure which site the state's political muscle would choose to back. It wasn't until Thursday morning that the outcome became evident.

"When they flashed the slides up comparing the sites during that meeting (of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee), it was just too obvious," said Robyn Pearson, the local Chamber of Commerce representative in attendance.

In the end, SLOC chose Soldier Hollow despite the better-financed bid from Sherwood Hills and a more politically popular spot above Provo.

The reason: "It's the best site," said Bill Spencer, a director of the U.S. Biathlon Association and technical committee member of the International Biathlon Committee.

Soldier Hollow has, as it turns out, a rare combination of the proper altitude and snowfall. And - unlike the more distant Sherwood Hills - it's only an hour from Salt Lake City and 30 minutes from alpine events at Park City.

Long considered a poor stepchild to its affluent neighbors in that community, Midway gained status overnight with the decision.

"This will create a real national and international clientele for us," said Britt Matchwick, general manager of the local Homestead Resort.

Mayor Steve Ridge conceded that the news might also push the unprepossessing town toward resembling Park City, whose middle class has been squeezed by soaring housing costs in recent times.

Might Midway - like Park City - become an enclave for the very rich, with their second homes, and the very poor, in subsidized housing?

"It's been becoming that already, for years," Ridge said.