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Men and Women in Brown represent SLOC in Nagano

Chances are you won't find the alien-hunting Men in Black - Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith - wandering the streets of Nagano.

But you will find plenty of men (and women) in brown.In fact, their presence here is ubiquitous, from cross-country ski venues in Hakuba to the curling venue in Kuriazawa to the tourist district and Zenkoji Temple in downtown Nagano.

They are all members of the Utah delegation to the 1998 Winter Games, and each is sporting a distinctive rusty-brown ski parka with the logo of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. It is a uniform that makes them recognizable to people of all languages.

"Honestly, we came here to Nagano with other assignments, not to have a visual presence," said Shelley Thomas, vice president for public affairs for SLOC. "We were not thinking about making a visual statement . . . (although) I could see how people might get that impression."

Much of that impression is centered on a small SLOC office on the fourth floor of a downtown Nagano office building that has become a virtual beehive of activity since the Games began. Measuring 19 meters long by 4 meters wide, the dingy gray room is more reminiscent of a hallway crammed with copiers, fax machines, a computer, telephones and 16 two-way radios.

There is a constant stream of people in and out of the office, often as many as 200 to 300 a day. Games visitors dropping by to say hello, officials looking to copy information or write correspondence, staffers whirling to answer calls and respond to a never-ending flurry of requests.

When the room fills with 30 or 40 people, which it often does, the feeling is one of chaos, if not claustrophobia. The feeling is accentuated by the three space heaters.

"We have to have some kind of facility to coordinate our activities here," Thomas said. "It may not be much, but office space in downtown Nagano is extremely expensive, and this is all we could get."

During the course of the Winter Games here, SLOC will have up to 70 staff members working various assignments - but not all at the same time. Add to that total about 275 brown coats being worn by officials of state, county and local governments, and Utahns are making a rather distinctive fashion statement.

The parkas, made by Marker, are undeniably subdued - especially when compared to the bright red parkas of Coca-Cola and USA Today, or even the royal blue of IBM and the Canadian broadcasters.

"I'm sick of them already," said one SLOC staffer of the brown coats. "I can't wait to get back to my room at night and change into something a little less obvious."

"The color is bad enough," grumbled another senior SLOC official, "but they are worthless in the rain and snow. Fifteen minutes and you are soaked. I know it's a uniform, but at least they could have made it functional."

Nevertheless, brown has become a statement the local residents have come to recognize. The pride of being the host city for the 1998 Games has created a sense of mutual respect between the Japanese hosts and the Utah delegation. It is not uncommon for locals to request Utah representatives to pose for photographs and to trade for Salt Lake pins.

Intended or not, the brown-coated Salt Lake delegates have become ambassadors for the state and the 2002 Winter Games.

Ambassadorial duties aside, Thomas insists that it is mostly work and very little play for the SLOC delegates here. There is an unbelievable amount of coordination that must occur to accommodate the waves of Utah officials who want to observe Olympic events and tour facilities. There are issues of transportation, hotel accommodations, translators, security clearances and accreditations.

On top of that, SLOC officials themselves have various responsibilities to observe the Nagano Games and decipher what may or may not be applicable to Utah's situation in 2002. And there are reports to write and VIPs to pamper.

SLOC has had an official presence here since Sept. 15, when Brett and Rebecca Sterrett arrived to begin the coordination. The office was rented on Jan. 15, and it will stay open through Monday. Only then will the Sterretts return to Utah.

"I am looking forward to getting back to Utah snow," Brett Sterrett said, adding he brought his skis with him to Nagano only to send them home because he hasn't had time to use them.

His hectic schedule aside, Brett Sterrett, who is the Salt Lake liaison with the Nagano Organizing Committee, called his time in Japan one of the most incredible experiences of his life. But he said he is ready to head home.

"I wake up at 6 in the morning, and I end my day about midnight," he said. "We're so busy with the Olympics here that it will be nice go home and have a personal life again."

And he'll have that brown jacket as a keepsake of his time in Nagano.