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84 nations RSVP for Winter Games

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A whopping 84 countries have sent the International Olympic Committee an RSVP for Salt Lake's 2002 Games.

The figure represents the largest number of countries ever to indicate they are sending athletes to compete at a Winter Games.

It doesn't, however, guarantee that Salt Lake City will have the largest country count of any Winter Olympics.

"Some of them don't even have athletes to participate," Salt Lake Organizing Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Bailey Goulet said of the 84 nations, which include such unlikely winter candidates as Fiji, Iran and Lebanon.

"Some of the countries just RSVP to look good for the IOC," Bailey Goulet said.

So while Salt Lake's RSVP list looms large, it remains to be seen whether Utah's Games will surpass Nagano, Japan, for the greatest country representation in Winter Games' history.

Organizers anticipate more than 2,300 athletes will compete at the Salt lake Games. SLOC will know in January exactly how many countries will attend.

Many countries are in limbo waiting to discover if the few winter athletes they do have will qualify for the Games, Bailey Goulet explained.

Traditionally, successive Winter Olympics have bested their predecessors in country participation.

At the first Winter Games of 1924 in Chamonix, France, 294 athletes from 16 nations took part. The 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France, saw 1,801 athletes from 64 nations. The 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, saw 1,844 athletes from 67 countries.

The 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, saw a record 2,339 athletes from 72 countries participate, according to SLOC.

The addition of events in recent years, including women's ice hockey, curling and snowboarding, has brought more athletes and countries to the Winter Games. For 2002, skeleton and women's bobsled have been added to the sports program.

Besides sovereign nations, the IOC allows lesser locales to participate.

"Although most national Olympic committees (NOCs) are from nations, the IOC also recognizes independent territories, commonwealths, protectorates and geographical areas," according to IOC rules.

Such commonwealths and territories are counted in the country tally, which is why Sydney in 2000 could boast that more than 200 countries were attending its Games, even though there were, at that time, only 192 countries on earth.

E-MAIL: bsnyder@desnews.com