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Utah wins over Games journalists

They marveled at venues for the 2002 Winter Games that appear ready for Olympic competition. Delighted in how well-organized their tour was. Heck, they even heaped praise on the salad served at lunch.

And this was supposed to be a tough crowd - about half of the 200 journalists expected here in Salt Lake City for a U.S. Olympic Committee media summit.The four-day media summit, which ends Tuesday, is intended to get journalists ready for the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, as well as give them a sneak preview of 2002.

That included an announcement Monday that York International will be a sponsor of the 2002 Games. The heating, air-conditioning, refrigeration and snowmaking company also will support U.S. Olympic teams through 2002.

York International has already contributed both cash and refrigeration equipment to Utah's Olympic organizers and will give snowmaking equipment to Snowbasin ski resort, site of the downhill ski races in 2002.

Many of the journalists attending the media summit were among the chorus of critics who condemned the most recent Olympics, the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.

Chief among their complaints was the media transportation system. On Sunday's tour, sponsored by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, they couldn't find much to complain about.

Atlanta had a fleet of mostly aging buses driven by out-of-towners who couldn't find their way around. Sunday's transportation was two luxury motor coaches, each staffed with several knowledgeable guides.

Journalists from as far away as Japan settled back in the plush seats as the buses zipped along nearly empty freeways and stayed on schedule throughout the day-long tour.

"I'm quite impressed," USA Today reporter John Tkach said during the tour, which included stops at the Utah Winter Sports Park and Deer Valley before driving by the University of Utah and other Salt Lake City sites.

Tkach said he wasn't sure what to expect from his first visit to the Wasatch Front. But he liked what he saw and what he heard from Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini and SLOC Chief Executive Officer Frank Joklik.

"They seem to have their act together," he said after their press conference at the state-owned sports park, home to the bobsled and luge run. "There are no turf wars."

Just another difference between Salt Lake City and Atlanta, where local government officials and organizers of the 1996 Games fought over a number of issues, including the city's decision to permit thousands of street vendors.

Corradini and Joklik both stressed how well the city and organizing committee worked together. And the mayor promised Salt Lake streets wouldn't be over-commercialized.

Jeff Schultz, a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, suggested the mayor was campaigning for re-election. She did tell several reporters the International Olympic Committee had urged her to run for a third term.

Schultz said it's difficult to compare Summer Games with Winter Games, since the warm-weather Olympics is so much larger. That gives Salt Lake City an advantage over Atlanta, he said.

"There's less of a chance to screw it up," Schultz said. His advice for Utah's Olympic organizers? "Get the buses to run on time."

Although preparations for the 2002 Winter Games were the focus Sunday, the second day of the conference, the journalists are actually here to meet members of Team USA headed to the next Olympics in Nagano.

Fusako Go, a reporter for one of Japan's largest newspapers, the Asahi Simbun, said Salt Lake City looked as if it could take over next February's Olympics.

Go said the venues are bigger than those built for Nagano's Olympics. "In Nagano, all the venues are small. You can stand at one point and see everything. Here you have to walk a bit."

The weather cooperated for such strolls Sunday. Sunny skies brought warm temperatures, but snow still dusted the mountain venues from the same early season storm that left some USOC officials stranded in Colorado Springs.