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Welch set to sit up, celebrate Games

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Even as his accusers continue to press for his prosecution, Tom Welch is ready to celebrate.

Welch returns to Utah Thursday to attend the 2002 Winter Games with his friends and family. He hopes they, like him, will set aside any bitterness to share his sense of achievement.

"I've given 20 years of my life to this thing," Welch said Monday in an interview with the Deseret News. "I am not looking to have my name on a wall. That means nothing to me. But I have a hope that as those athletes march into the stadium that my family will feel that sense of accomplishment."

For Welch, it is a time of contradictions. The Games could be seen as his achievement or associated with his public, and potentially legal, downfall. While he is eager for the Games, he is also eager for a day when he might put the Games-bid bribery scandal behind him.

"I look forward anxiously to a new day when the Olympics don't occupy center stage, when life can return to normal," he said.

For Welch that may not be anytime soon.

He and Dave Johnson, his former No. 2 at the bid and organizing committees, still face the possibility of a federal trial in connection with the more than $1 million in cash and gifts given to International Olympic Committee members.

Welch said he was not surprised when government prosecutors last week appealed U.S. District Judge David Sam's dismissal of all of the racketeering, fraud and conspiracy charges against the pair.

"I anticipated that all along. It is just part of the process we're going through," Welch said.

"The Olympic journey won't end with closing ceremonies, but one chapter will close. I anticipate the others will follow shortly."

Welch continues to maintain he did nothing wrong.

"It wasn't that what we did was wrong. That's what the process was," Welch said. "I don't let negative people or bitterness play a role in my life or enter into my heart. . . . As to the people who wronged me, they have to live with themselves."

He doesn't want to talk much about just who those people are but it's clear he's still upset with the findings of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's ethics panel, which blamed him and Johnson alone for what was done in the name of winning the Games.

Welch said the government's case "was fundamentally flawed from the beginning. It took the blueprint of an ethics report that was manufactured after the fact with the intent of isolating the bid process to two people.

"It is wrong factually. It is wrong legally. And to the extent they sought to harm us, it is wrong morally."

His longtime friend, developer Kem Gardner, said Welch is discouraged that the government chose to appeal the dismissal and that he had to be talked into coming back to Utah for the Games.

"The reason I wanted him to come and that I gave him some tickets to some events is because I think he ought to be here and enjoy it and I think it would be better for him to be here than brooding in California."

Welch's home these days is in California, with his second wife. His first marriage ended after a 1997 incident that led to his pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of spouse abuse ? and losing his job as SLOC president.

He still has a condominium in Park City, where he'll stay during the Games. Welch said he'll be joined there by his children who "gave a lot" to the decadelong bid campaign that ended with the IOC's 1995 vote to give Salt Lake City the 2002 Winter Games.

"There wasn't a visitor that came to this community from any part of the world that wasn't in our home and that our children didn't get to know," Welch said. "I want my kids ? as well as all of those others who gave countless thousands of hours ? to feel a sense of value."

But for himself, Welch said he is not looking for recognition. That despite efforts by some of his friends to add his name to the "Wall of Honor" at The Gateway, one of Gardner's projects.

Gardner said Welch "just wants to get this thing behind him and get healing for himself and the community." To that end, Gardner said he passed along a message from Welch to another longtime friend, SLOC President Mitt Romney.

That message was that Welch would not do an interview on "60 Minutes" or anything else that could embarrass Romney or detract from the Games by turning attention to the bid scandal.

"I don't want to do anything that is distractive from the Games and the reasons we sought to bring them to our community," Welch said. "That doesn't mean there aren't differences that have to be addressed, but the 17 days of the Games should be reserved for the Games."

Romney said he believed "that's the right direction" for Welch to take. "The world is coming to the Olympics to the athletes and could not give a hoot about Mitt Romney or other managers of the Games. . . . I am convinced that Tom and Dave and others will, like the rest of us, focus on the opportunity to host the world," Romney said.

Welch turned down Romney's offer of free tickets to the dress rehearsal of the opening ceremonies at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Feb. 8 but said he appreciated the intent. He also praised the job that Romney and his staff are doing.

"I think they've done a great job in preparing. I think they're going to be wonderful Games. It's an opportunity for our community to stand tall. . . . What I hope will happen will be for the world to recognize the goodness of our people."

E-MAIL: lisa@desnews.com