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SLOC getting ahead of the Games — oops!

SHARE SLOC getting ahead of the Games — oops!

It doesn't always pay to be ahead of schedule.

Organizers of the 2002 Winter Games learned that lesson when high winds and heavy snows over the weekend ruined some Olympic decorations at the Soldier Hollow cross country and biathlon venue in Wasatch Mountain State Park.

"We prepared maybe a little too early on the 'look' element because they're much more susceptible to weather," Fraser Bullock, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's chief operating officer, said Wednesday. "We lost a lot."

Banners and other decorative elements that were torn or blown down in the storm have been mended and reinstalled.

Despite the incident, Bullock said the 10 competition and four non-competition venues are "in wonderful shape" because organizers stuck by their plans to get the facilities ready as early as two months before the Games begin Feb. 8.

Bullock said he saw the need for Salt Lake City to "be prepared early" after arriving in Sydney, Australia, for the 2000 Summer Games. "I saw remarkable calm there three days before the Games, and I said, 'How did you do this?' "

For SLOC, the answer was to spend $1.5 million to put up temporary tents, trailers and other facilities at most venues by the end of 2001. That meant venue-operations teams were able to start working out kinks at each site sooner.

"We know we will always have glitches," Bullock said. "We'll have some over the next month. We wanted to give ourselves enough cushion in terms of time so when we see one of those glitches, we can prepare for it."

The tents and trailers went up on time. The massive bleachers that provide seating at outdoor venues, including the Olympic Medals Plaza in downtown Salt Lake City, were another story.

"Our bleachers took a lot longer," Bullock said. "These are complicated structures, so we started them in August."

All were completed as of Wednesday morning.

What's left are details such as signs. "We're double-checking all our signage. We've got some gaffes here and there," Bullock said. They are being fixed, he said.

Other jobs that still need to be done include removing scaffolding — and snow. Doug Arnot, head of event operations for SLOC, said more than 2,500 loads of snow had to be removed from Olympic venues after the last storm.

Getting venues ready for competitions and celebrations isn't all that SLOC is doing in the days leading up to the opening ceremonies. One venue, the Main Media Center in the Salt Palace, opened Monday and is already bustling with journalists from around the world.

And organizers continue to tinker with security and transportation plans. Bullock said that after hearing complaints from reporters that stringent security checks were making lines into the media center too long, SLOC added more checkpoints.

Then there's transportation. "The normal bugaboo of most Games is transportation," said Bob Garff, chairman of SLOC's board of trustees. During the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, transportation plans changed daily, he said.

Bullock said organizers want people to take seriously the lengthy estimates of how long it will take to get to venues. He warned that the average speed on I-80 between Salt Lake City and Park City will be 30 mph on the Games' busiest days.

Even with all the last-minute details, organizers are, if not remarkable calm, at least confident they're doing everything that needs to be done. "We're pleased about where we're at," Garff said. "But we're working our heads off."


E-mail: lisa@desnews.com

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