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Uniting the community

Hosting the world at Games is an opportunity for all Utahns

The Olympics do something to you. Since 1960, Ann and I had seen the Games the way most people do, on television. But given my job, we went to the Sydney Games in person. Two days into the event, Ann said it was the best vacation she'd ever had.

The Olympics, of course, is about sport. But it is not just the athleticism that draws us to the Games. There is something more fundamental, more universal. Over the years, it had drawn us to follow the Olympics on TV. In Sydney, the feelings were palpable.

The Olympics are a celebration of the great qualities of the human spirit. Athletes showcase them. Dan Jansen's perseverance, Kerri Strug's sacrifice for her team, Nikki Stone's battle through pain, Kristi Yamaguchi's grace, Carl Lewis' reach within himself, Picabo Street's exuberance, and on and on. Great qualities of the human spirit are also in evidence among the volunteers, spectators and communities which host the world for the Games.

Spectators and athletes of hostile nations cheer each other's effort. In Sydney, North and South Korea marched together in the opening parade of nations.

The Games can heal division, uniting the human family. Australia's women athletes were showcased and cheered as they brought the torch to the cauldron of Homebush. An aboriginal, Cathy Freeman, was given the Games' highest honor, attracting the respect of the nation and the world. The Games bring unity in the world, in the nation and in the community. When I travel to Washington, D.C., I am occasionally asked why I believe our government and federal tax dollars should support the Olympics. I am unequivocal: The Games are the greatest demonstration of peace on the world stage. They showcase great qualities of humanity. They unify the family of mankind.

When I'm home in Utah, I am more frequently asked: What will be the legacy of the Games? I think people are expecting to hear of venues and dollars and growth. Well, that's not my answer. The key legacy will be how we as individuals and as a community are touched by the Olympics and the Olympians. Will we be inspired, as one person has put it, to find the Olympian within us? Not as athletes, but as individuals striving for something greater in ourselves.

Will we be proud of the way we have fulfilled our commitment to the world? And will the many communities which compose the fabric of Utah have drawn together?

I find our community more divided than I had expected. I must admit to be very troubled by the characterization "Mormon Games." It's not that my Mormon friends should be insulted by having their name linked with the Olympics. It is rather the divisiveness it engenders. I also find it demeaning of the extraordinary efforts of the many diverse groups and faiths which have stepped forward to host the world. Some 60,000 individuals have applied to be volunteers! Members of boards, advisory boards, Olympic ambassadors, venue chairpersons and so forth give countless days of volunteer service, and they number in the hundreds. All of these represent the many ethnic and religious communities of our state.

I and my team are committed to fostering the unity the Olympics represents.

We seek inclusiveness and the broadest sharing of the Olympic experience. When we make mistakes, we'll do our best to correct them. We will call on all the people who will be the face of the Games as volunteers and spectators to show the warm hospitality and neighborliness that has long characterized the American West. And when the Games are over, we will have a memory that all of Utah's communities can share together.


Mitt Romney is president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.