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Soon, all this will be ours

WITH THE Winter Olympics finishing up today in Nagano, the world's eyes now turn to Salt Lake City. For the next four years, it's our privilege - as well as our problem. As someone once said, "We got next."

For the average Utahn, hosting the Olympics probably won't be one big, happy experience. First, we can look forward to four more years of talking about the Olympics. Talking about the Olympics for 17 days while they're going on is tiring enough; doing so for four years will be excruciating.With the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake, we can plan on a serious bout of traffic congestion. We can look forward to our own period of hand-wringing over whether there will be too little or too much snow. We can expect another scandal or two somewhere along the line.

We can look forward to 17 days of journalists from all over the world trying to justify their expense accounts. So instead of side trips for stories on Japanese snow monkeys, there will be stories on Promontory Point, Delicate Arch and perhaps an artsy piece on the plight of wild horses in the Utah desert.

We can expect our politicians, journalists, educators and environmentalists to suddenly become experts on what Utah is and where it is going. We can expect a lot of outsiders to suddenly become experts on what Utah is and where it is going, as well.

We can plan on seeing the Olympic logo plastered on everything. Don't be surprised to see "2002" etched in stone alongside Anasazi petroglyphs outside Moab. We can expect to be asked to volunteer to do something, somewhere, to help ensure the entire production isn't a flop. We can plan on someone using the Games as a forum to protest something. Sadly, there may even be an attempt at violence.

We can expect to watch the Olympics on TV. It isn't like you can pick up tickets for the USA-Canada hockey game by running over to Smith's Tix.

We can count on romantic, poignant, Charles Kuralt-type stories on Utah and its history, complete with panoramic scenes of the Salt Lake Valley from atop Ensign Peak. At the same time, we can expect the usual slew of stories characterizing Salt Lake as a backwater town with strange liquor laws and a nonexistent night life.

There will be endless stories and clinics on sports we will never again pay attention to, like curling and biathlon.

But for all the problems the Olympics bring, good things happen, as well. For example, by the time 2002 rolls around, it's safe to say there will be a new freeway. And in February 2002, we can expect at least one American to shine.

In almost every Olympics, an athlete from the host country lives out a dramatic story. It happened in 1976 at Innsbruck, when Franz Klammer dazzled the hometown crowd by winning gold in the downhill. It happened in Lillehammer in 1994 when Norwegian hero Johann Olav Koss set three world speed-skating records in three attempts. It happened at Atlanta in 1996 when American Michael Johnson became the first man to win the 200- and 400-meter races. It happened at Grenoble in 1968 when Frenchman Jean Claude Killy swept the downhill events, and in 1972 at Sapporo when the Japanese ski jumping team swept the medals. And it happened in 1980 at Lake Placid when the American hockey team stole away with the gold.

This year's great Olympic story may well have been that of Masahiko "Happy" Harada. Harada failed in team ski jumping in 1994, caving in under the pressure on the last jump and costing his team the gold medal. He became an object of near-scorn in his homeland of Japan. Four years later, in his own country, he was back.

On his first team jump at the Nagano Games, Harada failed again, traveling an embarrassing 79.5 meters. All the old memories were welling up. But by the time his second jump came around, strong showings by teammates had put Japan back into contention for the gold.

Suddenly the moment had arrived. The eyes of Japan were watching. The Pachinko parlors had stopped ca-chinging . . . the stock market had stopped trading . . . the bullet train had stopped speeding . . . and Happy Harada pushed off, rising in the air and landing a record 137-meters away, tying for the longest jump in Olympic history.

Harada wept openly. "I did it! I did it!" he cried.

And so in four years, this will be ours. The traffic, congestion, commercialism, stress, hyperbole. The aggravation of being taken over by the world. Yet through it all, the odds are good there will be at least one sublime moment, when the Olym-pics rise above their problems. A moment when some American athlete, with destiny at hand, brings us a memory we'll never, ever forget.