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Coke to give visitors taste of Games

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Coca-Cola wants visitors to the 2002 Winter Games to know what it's like to push a bobsled, slide around a 90-degree curve on a luge sled, score a hockey goal and throw a curling stone.

The soft-drink company is outfitting a giant tent inside Salt Lake Olympic Square, just across the street from the Delta Center, with tracks and rinks that will allow members of the public to test their winter sports skills at no charge beginning Feb. 9.

Other free activities at the 20,000-square-foot attraction, dubbed "On The Ice," include two places to pose for photographs that can be e-mailed, including one set up to look like the front row of a figure-skating competition.

Thursday, workers were still busy building the four interactive sports exhibits. Three are on ice: a 110-foot luge track that has a 90-degree curve, a 40-by-12-foot hockey rink with a regulation-size net and a 50-foot sheet of ice for curling.

The 45-foot bobsled track is actually a metal sheet so participants won't slip as they push a sled in pairs. Like all of the exhibits, it offers a way to measure performance: a timing clock that will rank participants.

"It's about people experiencing the Games," said Haven Riviere, general manager for the company's Winter Olympics sponsorship. Coke doesn't want to interfere with that experience by putting too much emphasis on its product, he said.

That means the company will have only three billboards in the Salt Lake area during the Olympics compared to "a couple of dozen" in Atlanta during the 1996 Summer Games, which also featured a much larger Coca-Cola city.

Critics called the 1996 Olympic the "Coca-Cola Games," claiming they were dominated not by the performance of athletes but by the often over-the-top commercial efforts of American companies such as Coke.,

The Atlanta-based company has been an Olympic sponsor since 1928 and was the first to sign on as an international-level supporter of the 2002 Winter Games. Coke is also underwriting much of the cost of the 2002 Olympic torch relay.

The company is reportedly spending about $100 million on Olympic-related promotions, with about one-third of that amount going toward television commercials. Much of the rest is being spent in Salt Lake City.

Besides the "On The Ice" attraction, Coke is also setting up three pin-trading centers. Two are in Park City, and one is near the downtown tent, at the TRAX station that will be closed during the Games.

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com