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Idahoans in Nagano getting into Olympic spirit

The 2002 Winter Games will attract skiers to the slopes, athletes to local communities for pre-Olympic training and events and as much as $150 million to the economy.

And that's just in Idaho."It will only make the whole 2002 experience better for everyone," said Carl Wilgus, tourism division administrator for the Idaho Department of Commerce.

Wilgus is in Nagano for the 1998 Winter Games, "getting the feel and the flavor of (how) this goes," along with Dana Gaston, a Boise-based sales manager for Northwest Airlines.

Gaston and Wilgus are part of a statewide effort to make sure Idaho shares in the economic and social benefits of having the Winter Games just across the border.

They hope to sell their state to everyone from Olympic athletes looking for a place to train to tourists traveling to and from the Wasatch Front. Oh, and they're targeting Utahns, too.

One of their goals is lure Salt Lake area residents to escape the Olympic hoopla. A suggested advertising campaign features messages such as "avoid the crowds" and "experience the solitude."

A few copies of "Idaho's 2002 Winter Games Strategy" even turned up on a table at the Main Press Center here that's home to thousands of journalists from around the world.

Wilgus said Idaho isn't trying to take any business away from Utah. "We're just looking for a few crumbs that fall on the floor - $150 million is all we need."

That's the amount of money Idaho officials predict the 2002 Winter Games can add to the state's economy. Over the next four years, a total of $750,000 will be spent trying to reach that goal.

About half of the money is coming from the private sector, Wilgus said. Last week, Idaho Gov. Philip Batt created a 15-member committee to coordinate and promote the state's effort.

Other states, including neighboring Nevada, are expected to attempt to capitalize on the million-plus visitors the 2002 Winter Games are expected to attract.

Salt Lake City's success in getting the Games will hopefully clarify the image of the entire region, Wilgus said. "In the last 24 hours, I've had people come up to me and say, `Idaho - potatoes and Picabo Street.' "

The potatoes are already known worldwide thanks to McDonalds, and Sun Valley skier Street boosted her fame by winning a gold medal in the women's giant slalom.

Wilgus said most people, especially those outside the United States, know little about the west beyond Disneyland, Las Vegas and Yellowstone National Park. He said he hopes the 2002 Winter Games can put places like Idaho on the map.

Several years ago, Utah officials estimated the Games would bring $1.7 billion into the economy. That study is currently being updated, as is the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's $1 billion-plus budget.

Idaho's plan was put together with the help of a consultant, Lisa Delpy, a sports management and tourism professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Wilgus and Gaston arrived in Nagano Tuesday and are planning to leave Japan Sunday, the final day of the 1998 Winter Games.