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IOC urges Utah to put its Games on a faster track

It's still six days before the 1998 Winter Games get started here, but members of the International Olympics Committee Executive Board Saturday focused four years hence, telling Salt Lake Organizing Committee members they need to move faster in preparing for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

The IOC wants the Salt Lake committee to fill top positions in its organization faster and to make sure it takes good care of the corporate sponsors that will spend up to $50 million each to use the Olympic name and logo in their advertising campaigns.SLOC members arrived in Nagano with some good news from home. A Deseret News poll shows Utahns are again warming to the idea of hosting the Winter Games.

Most of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee staff will be in Japan over the next three weeks to take advantage of the last chance they'll have to observe a Winter Games before 2002.

And even more state and local government officials are coming to watch and learn about the demands the 2002 Winter Games will place on transportation, security, health and other services in Salt Lake City and surrounding cities.

But it's the organizing committee that stands to gain - or lose - the most from the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, which open at 11 a.m. Saturday (7 p.m. MST Friday).

The world will be introduced to Salt Lake City during a five-minute production at the end of the closing ceremonies on Feb. 22, where the Olympic flag will be handed over to Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini.

Details of the show are being kept secret, although the Deseret News has reported it will feature horses and a huge inflatable arch. SLOC officials have described the production as "brave and bold."

Back at home, organizers have been struggling with the less glamorous job of restoring public confidence since former Olympic boss Tom Welch resigned last summer after being charged with spouse abuse.

And they've been getting ready to launch a fund-raising effort to balance their budget, now at more than $1 billion and likely to increase once a detailed cost study is completed later this year.

The latest Deseret News poll shows support among Utahns for the 2002 Winter Games has increased since hitting an all-time low last year in the wake of Welch's resignation.

Then, just 53 percent of Utahns said they favored Salt Lake City hosting the Games. That number jumped to 61 percent in a poll taken by Dan Jones & Associates Jan. 8-10. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

"This is a comeback," pollster Dan Jones said. But he cautioned that Utahns could change their minds again if the Winter Games in Nagano don't go well.

"They'll really watch to see how successful they are," Jones said.

Indeed, 66 percent of the 603 Utahns interviewed in the statewide poll said they were interested in the Nagano Games. But 56 percent said they didn't believe the Olympics would affect their enthusiasm for 2002.

SLOC Chief Executive Officer Frank Joklik said he hopes the poll results reflect more public confidence in the organizing committee.

"I think we're on the right track, which is not to say there are not a lot of hurdles left," Joklik said. "We still have a huge, huge job ahead of us."

That job's already under way in Nagano, where top organizing committee officials arrived late last week along with the mayor. More than 40 SLOC staffers are coming for at least part of the 16-day event.

SLOC leaders spent about an hour Saturday in the closed-door meeting with the IOC executive board, going over the just-signed contract for an ice hockey arena in Provo and other preparations for the Games.

Those included details of the Olympic Village planned at the University of Utah's share of Fort Douglas and several recently created positions in public relations and finance.

Even with the hiring of a new senior vice president of community affairs and a chief financial officer, Joklik said IOC members expressed concern key positions weren't being filled fast enough.

They said more hires need to be made soon, particularly in the area of sports and venue management. Joklik did add another name to the list of new appointments at Sunday's meeting.

Kelly Flint, the organizing committee's legal counsel, will now also oversee marketing activities. His new title is senior vice president of law and commerce.

The IOC members also wanted to make sure Salt Lake City was prepared to take good care of the corporations that spend $50 million or more to become international level sponsors, Joklik said.

The IOC marketing program, known as TOP, is expected to open an office in Salt Lake City later this year. The U.S. Olympic Committee-run joint marketing program for national sponsors is already based in Salt Lake City.

Corradini said IOC members asked about how the city will look during the 2002 Games. She said she was "very impressed with the `Main Street' atmosphere" of the Nagano boulevard leading to Zenkoji Temple.

"One of the things we need to think about in Salt Lake City is where that `Main Street' is going to be," she said.

Another presentation is scheduled for Wednesday before the full session of the IOC. SLOC leaders are planning to tour the Olympic venues before the Games open.

Joklik said he's already aware that this mid-size Japanese city's narrow streets will make transportation difficult and that the area's hotel accommodations may be "more frugal" than many Westerners expect.

But plenty of money has been spent to prepare Nagano for the Winter Games, especially for stadiums and other buildings intended to put a modern face on a region viewed by the rest of Japan as provincial.

"I think we are going to have a tremendously hard time living up to the venues they have here," Joklik said. "They represent an investment which we can't even come close to matching."

That's because the Nagano Games have been heavily subsidized by the government. Japanese taxpayers at the local, prefectural and national level are paying for everything from new stadiums to a high-speed train link to Tokyo.

Almost all of the $1 billion or more that it will cost Salt Lake's Olympic organizers to put on the 2002 Winter Games is coming from private sources, mainly corporate sponsors and television networks.

The federal government is expected to help out with some funding for security. Joklik said the Nagano Games, however, "are a national effort . . . with no expenses spared."

Just the $300 million-plus price of building the unusually shaped speed-skating oval, known as the M-Wave, is more than SLOC's entire construction budget. The massive track has a specially crafted wood ceiling.

Joklik described the distinctive building as a "masterpiece of architecture, whereas we're trying to cover our speed-skating oval (located at the Oquirrh Park Fitness Center in Kearns) as cheaply as possible."

But, he said, that doesn't mean Utahns should consider pouring more tax dollars into the 2002 Games. State and local taxpayers contributed $59 million toward the facilities, money that's due to be paid back by organizers.

"There's no plan to go back to the taxpayers," Joklik said, even though he said when taxpayers approved a 1989 referendum supporting the Olympic bid, "it wasn't with the intention of putting on half an Olympics."

Top SLOC spokeswoman Shelley Thomas recently warned that Utah was in danger of being remembered for hosting a "cheap Olympics," but Joklik said he doesn't like that description.

"I don't want to use the word `cheap,' " he said. "But clearly at the end of the Games, we must not leave the impression that things were left undone that should have been done."

How much that will cost is yet to be determined. The budget for the 2002 Winter Games has already risen to more than $1 billion from about $800 million and could increase more once a new study is completed later this year.

It's not clear, either, where any additional revenue needed would come from, except through a newly created corporate fund-raising position announced last week.

Nearly all of the broadcast rights to the 2002 Winter Games have been sold, and the amount of money from corporate sponsors is effectively limited under the terms of a joint marketing agreement with the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Jerry McClain, who had been the temporary chief financial officer for SLOC before being named director of business development last week, said the fund-raising campaign should get under way in about six months.

McClain said the effort will be aimed at area companies, who'll have to be willing to contribute to the Olympics without being able to market their association.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Deseret News poll

How would you rate your interest in the 1998 Winter Games which begin in February in Nagano, Japan?

Very interested 20%

Somewhat interested 46%

Not very interested 21%

Not at all interested 13%

Don't know 1%

Do you believe the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, will make you more or less enthusiastic about Salt Lake City's hosting the 1001 Winter Games?

More enthusiastic 29%

Won't affect my enthusiasm one way or the other 56%

Less enthusiastic 12%

Don't know 3%

Do you favor or oppose Salt Lake City hosting the 2002 Winter Games?

Strongly favor 34%

Somewhat favor 27%

Somewhat oppose 11%

Strongly oppose 23%

Don't know 1%

This poll of 603 Utah residents was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates Jan. 8-10, 1998. It has a margin of error of +/-4 percent.