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Finale leaves S.L. crowd jazzed about Games

They roared as the Delta Center Jumbotron flashed moments of glory and gut-wrenching agony from the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano: Picabo Street streaking down a mountain in Hakuba, skier Nikki Stone flashing her gold-medal smile from an awards podium, skier Herman Maier flying like a rag doll in a disastrous crash on the downhill course, figure skater Philippe Candeloro dueling imaginary opponents across the ice on his way to a bronze medal.

And when they finally saw Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini on the stage in Minami Nagano Sports Park, accepting the Olympic flag that will fly over the city until the games arrive in 2002, the crowd acted as though it was the best thing they'd seen all night.A blur of tiny American flags, handed out earlier in the evening, ripped through the air as balloons cascaded over the wildly cheering crowd.

Bring home the flag, and bring on the Games: These 8,000 fans are ready.

"It's incomprehensible this is coming. It's exciting. Notice, I have two flags," said Ken Conrad of Salt Lake City, twirling his mini-American banners.

Never mind that the broadcast was tape-delayed. Or that the piece showcasing Utah at the end of Nagano ceremony was so short that if you blinked twice you missed it. Or that CBS chose to show the world special guests gathered for its private party in Deer Valley celebrating the moment.

The people are jazzed.

"I think it's the greatest thing to come here and will be a tremendous boon to us and will be with us forever," said Joan Simard, Salt Lake City. "It would have been nice had it (the Salt Lake segment) been a few more minutes, but it was a nice little tweak of the imagination for what they'll see here in four years."

Foreshadowing the future seemed to be the theme, too, of the booths ringing the arena, with the biggest draws being the pin booths and winter sports ex-hibits.

People waited in a line that circled the Delta Center arena to buy a pin commemorating the flag handoff from Nagano to Salt Lake City. All but 640 of the 3,000 pins available were gone in 45 minutes; the rest sold, at $10 each, before the event ended.

At the Wasatch Luge Club stand, Zach Lund of Salt Lake City fielded all kinds of questions about the sport from young and old alike.

"A lot of people came up and said, `I've always wanted to try it,' " he said. "A lot of older people wanted to know if they could do it. I'm surprised at the degree of interest."

The answer? Yes, if you dare. Or, you can keep an eye on Lund in the future.

The 18-year-old Salt Lake resident is a candidate for the Junior National Luge Team. He placed third in the national competition in Salt Lake City two weeks ago and hopes to work his way onto the senior national team that will compete in the 2002 Olympics.

"It's a long-term goal," he said.

At the hockey booth it was clear the gold-medal performance of the first women's hockey team made an impression on young girls - and their parents.

Colette Bowthorpe, director of house operations for the Salt Lake Amateur Hockey Association, said swarms of people stopped by to pick up brochures and inquire about getting into the sport. It will become much easier this fall, when the association plans to launch a new girl's hockey league.

Kyle McInnis, 10, and Chris Happel, 11, both aspiring hockey players from Salt Lake City, weren't so impressed, on the other hand, with the way the men's team trashed their rooms in Nagano after falling out of medal contention.

The boys, who play on the Salt Lake Avalanche Hockey team, pointed out that "we have to pay for it with our dues."

Mostly they're focused on their own futures, which they hope includes a "gold medal" and "just having fun."

People tried downhill skiing on a rolling carpet hill. They posed for pictures in a bobsled. And they signed up to buy pins to support the Jamaican Bobsled Team that says "Salt Lake City - Here We Come."

Yes, 10 years later the team - the two-man team placed 29th in Nagano, the best finish ever - is still trying to get in a cool run that wins a medal.

"They're saving that for Salt Lake City," said Nigel Swaby, team consultant.