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Welch, Johnson invited to rehearsal

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Tom Welch and Dave Johnson were among the community leaders invited Friday by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee to attend the dress rehearsal of the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Games.

The leaders of Salt Lake's scandal-tainted bid for the Games are on a list of more than 600 lawmakers, mayors, other local leaders and current and former SLOC officials being offered a pair of free tickets to the Feb. 6 rehearsal at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

SLOC President Mitt Romney said organizers were giving away seats for the University of Utah stadium to recognize "individuals who have made contributions to help bring the Games and make the Games great."

Romney said "that certainly does not exclude Tom or Dave."

Johnson said he'll wait to see the invitation before deciding whether to accept.

"I look forward to receiving it," Johnson said. "I'm going to enjoy the Games. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I worked 17 years to have them come to Salt Lake. I think it's a great experience. I plan to enjoy every minute of it."

Welch told The Associated Press that he would not accept the offer but had ordered Olympic tickets for himself and his family through a broker. "That's very gracious of Mitt, but I think I'll wait for the real ceremony," the wire service quoted Welch as saying.

The overture comes on the heels of controversy over whether Welch and Johnson should be recognized on the so-called "Wall of Honor" at the Olympic legacy plaza in the Gateway. Romney had his own plaque removed because of the ongoing debate.

Welch and Johnson were charged in connection with the more than $1 million in cash and gifts given to International Olympic Committee members during the bid campaign. Although a federal judge dismissed the charges last year, an appeal is pending.

Welch, who led the bid and the organizing committees, resigned in 1997 for personal reasons. Johnson, who was his second-in-command, was forced out shortly after the bid scandal surfaced in late 1998.

This is the first time that either have been asked to participate in a SLOC event since then. The dress rehearsal for the Feb. 8 opening ceremonies is by invitation only. The majority of the audience will be Olympic volunteers.

Logan Mayor Doug Thompson said it is about time that Welch and Johnson were included in the Games. "The courts have decided that the only thing they were guilty of is over-enthusiasm," Thompson said. "I think the invitation is a nice gesture."

Panguitch Mayor Janet Oldham said she is happy to share the event with Welch and Johnson. "The Olympics go beyond the scandal," she said.

Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan said they "played a very strong role in bringing the Games to Utah and I think they deserve credit."

Salt Lake City officials agreed.

"Tom Welch put in an enormous amount of effort and was largely responsible for the Olympic Games being held in the Salt Lake area," Salt Lake Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson said. "I think it's entirely appropriate."

Carlton Christensen, vice-chairman of the Salt Lake City Council, also said he believed the invitation was appropriate. "To not give them some kind of appreciation and recognition, I think, would be wrong."

Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman said, "I feel bad about that whole situation. It's hard to tell who's right and who's wrong but they did get us the Olympics. . . . It's too exciting what they have done for the state. I want everyone to enjoy the Olympics."

Contributing: Jeff Oliver, Diane Urbani and Amy Joi Bryson

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com