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Games will be fun but not painless

After Atlanta, site of the 1996 Summer Games, I wasn't quite sure how Utahns would abide the 2002 Games.

My questions went beyond seasons and climates. I didn't really care if it would be worse to sweat in the South or freeze in the West. Rather I was puzzled this way:"OK, we got the Games, now what do we do?" Now, after Nagano, I think I'm catching on.

I'm much more optimistic about having the world come to visit. But I'm equally confident that it will not be painless.

So, with two Games - a summer and a winter - under my belt, here are my good news/bad news profferings for Salt Lake in 2002.

The Olympic spirit

The Games are enveloping; call it the Olympic spirit. It's easy to get swept in and find yourself hanging on for the ride.

For Salt Lake's organizers, the Games will be a two-week culmination to what must seem like a lifetime of work. Agony and ecstasy will abound. For volunteers, they'll be a two-week immersion into an ocean of culture. To fun-lovers, they'll be a chance - if you can afford it - to be up close and personal with a bona fide Olympic sport. For the poorer partiers, there's still downtown where, I suspect, free things will be happenin' nightly.

The cold won't be a problem. Just dress warm.

And if reveling isn't right for you, just stay close to home in Sandy or Centerville. I doubt you'll feel much effect.

The Olympic demon

Hosting the Games will be a ton of work and not just for the organizing committee. The effect on government, volunteers, residents and private enterprise will be inescapable.

Traffic will jam. You don't throw thousands of visitors into the valley - even using buses and shuttles - without clogging the arteries. Patience will be the required watchword.

Tax dollars - in some way, shape or form - will help fund Utah's Games. Bet on it.

And, frankly, that's probably a pretty good investment of public funds. But let's be up front about the subject - and hold the line on the amount.

The Olympic observer

Don't look for 18,000 Utahns, ala a Jazz Game, to take in the sports. Salt Lake Olympic organizers say ticket prices won't be determined until 2000. But you can bet they won't be cheap. And a bunch of tickets will be sold out of state.

In Nagano, the cheapest seat to the figure skating was $64. But the better seats to the final rounds sold for $240 each, if you could get them.

Those who'll buy into anything - just to say they've seen an Olympic event - will likely look to the luge, bobsled, biathlon, curling or cross country, which sold in Na-ga-no for about $16 per person.

That same $16 - maybe it'll be $20 or $25 by 2002 - could have gotten you into a non-medal-round hockey game between two unknowns. Good tickets to a medal game? $240. If those matches sell for less than $300 in Salt Lake City, I'd be very surprised.

Nagano's most expensive event was the opening ceremonies at $280. Nagano's closing ceremonies is $240; Atlanta's was $636. Salt Lake's? Your guess is as good as mine.

The Olympic culture

Still, the entire affair is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I love, but can't easily afford, foreign travel. An adequate runner-up to travel is having foreigners come to Utah. Opening your home to an athlete from, say, Costa Rica, would be cool. Mingling with foreigners on the street would be great.

But, I fear, hordes of foreigners will also test our collective patience. Most will be journalists, who are often testy and occasionally nasty. And, unlike Americans, the Europeans and Asians love to smoke - anywhere. The Japanese killed us with kindness. Utahns should be so good.

The Olympic opportunities

The Games will make Utah a worldwide household word. The tourism and economic development mileage is immeasurable. Business and government are even now preparing to cash in.

But don't expect to get rich in two weeks. Sales at some stores might soar, but for most, it'll be business as usual.

And, I can't help but wonder if Utah is ready for two weeks under the media microscope. For better or worse, the media generally leave few, if any, stones unturned.

The Olympic games

The Games, officials at all levels will tell you, are about the athletes. I suppose that's at least partially true. For an athlete, there can be little greater than an Olympic gold.

And for an American athlete, winning at home could be the crowning event of one's career. An indelible impression on my Na-ga-no memory is the roar of the home-country crowd - amid near white-out snow - when Kazuyoshi Fu-na-ki soared on his way to ski jump gold.

But the Games are sometimes just games.

Too much is done in secret. The IOC is a royalty-like, tight-knit organization. The USOC and SLOC, while better, tend to follow suit. Granted, these are private nonprofit groups - and little tax money is being spent. But the fact of the matter is this: Salt Lake's Games are the biggest event in the state's history. Private or public, they'll have a profound impact on each of us. If they really want all Utahns to feel the Olympic experience, organizers will ensure the process is open, up front and always available to public scrutiny.

The Olympic feeling

Midway through the Games, I sat next to a Nagano banker riding the Shinkansen to Tokyo. After more than an hour of conversation, he broke with what I sensed is a common element of the Japanese cultural reserve and spoke frankly. In his opinion, the people who are making money off the Na-ga-no Games were happy. The rest, he said, "are feeling quite quiet."

Let's hope Utahns in 2002 have plenty to cheer about.