Delta Air Lines will help carry the Olympic flame that will be lit for the 2002 Winter Games late next year.

The Salt Lake Organizing Committee is scheduled to announce Tuesday that the airline will be a provider to the torch relay that will carry across the world a flame ignited in Greece.That flame will be used to light a cauldron in Rice-Eccles Stadium during opening ceremonies on Feb. 8, 2002, symbolizing the start of the Games. By the end of its journey it will have been passed along nearly 14,000 miles by some 11,000 torch bearers.

The first part of the flame's journey, though, is likely to be by plane. Delta provided a special charter flight to transport the flame lit for the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta from Greece to the United States.

Tuesday's announcement, scheduled at the airline's maintenance hangar at the Salt Lake City International Airport, will include the unveiling of Delta's new Boeing 777 plane, "The Soaring Spirit II."

The airline, which has a hub in Salt Lake City, is already a sponsor of the Games themselves. Now Delta will join presenting sponsors Coca-Cola and Chevrolet in helping to underwrite the cost of the torch relay.

SLOC, which has yet to balance the nearly $1.32 billion budget for the Games thanks to the scandal surrounding Salt Lake City's Olympic bid, has said the torch relay must be entirely funded by sponsors.

"We need an aircraft. We need a hotel. We need fuel and we need some food," said Steve McCarthy, president and chairman of ALEM International Inc., the Boulder, Colo., company hired by SLOC to run the torch relay.

It's a little more complicated than that, of course. In Atlanta, a caravan of some 40 vehicles moved the flame through 42 states in 84 days. In addition to being carried on foot by specially selected torch bearers, it traveled via plane, train, bicycle, boat and horseback.

At night, the flame stayed in a Holiday Inn, one of the Atlanta torch relay sponsors. It was guarded by Georgia state troopers, who were responsible for making sure the flame lit in Greece for the Atlanta Games was never extinguished.

Thousands of Utahns turned out to watch the torch make its way through the state in May 1996. McCarthy promised that the 2002 torch relay, still in the planning stages, will be even more exciting for Utahns.

"You bet. The torch relay really sets the stage for how the Olympics are seen. We become the dress rehearsal for everything," McCarthy said in a telephone interview from Europe, where he was discussing some details of the relay.

Salt Lake organizers have said the relay will begin in November or December 2001 and potentially visit more than 80 cities across the United States, reaching as many as 137 million people.

The Delta announcement comes as the torch lit for the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney makes its way through Australia. That flame reached Australia this week and will be carried around the continent before arriving in Sydney for the Sept. 15 opening ceremonies.

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