Utah threw a party Saturday night. A big one. And it was just the first of 16.

Some 20,000 revelers heated up a cold night at Saturday's inaugural celebration at the Olympic Medals Plaza.

Whether it was honoring the day's 12 Olympic medalists or dancing to the tunes of Dave Matthews Band, the crowd was definitely in a party mood.

As spectators took their seats and staked out spots in the plaza's general admission area, football star Steve Young introduced local bands and celebrity emcee Bob Saget ("Full House," "America's Funniest Home Videos.")

Plaza "cheerleaders" circulated through the crowd, leading dances and keeping the excitement level high. The spirit squads included members of Hillcrest and Brighton high schools' drill teams.

"Our job is to keep the crowd pumped up and stuff," Hillcrest High sophomore Alli Wagstaff said before launching into high-energy rounds of "YMCA" and the "Macarena."

Olympic trivia and interactive games also helped keep the crowd warm and entertained before the big show.

When the show began, the scene on the plaza's giant revolving stage continued the 2002 Winter Games' fire and ice theme. The 70-foot arch opened to dancers and aerialists, who slid acrobatically from the top of the arch on columns of billowing white silk.

The Olympic torch made a command performance at the Medals Plaza Saturday, in a one-time-only lighting of a small-scale version of the caldron now burning at Rice-Eccles stadium. Twelve Olympians carried the torch from the stadium, all former U.S. flag bearers from opening ceremonies dating back to the 1960 Games in Squaw Valley.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge and former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch were on hand to award medals.

Medals awarded Saturday were:

Freestyle, ladies moguls: Gold, Kari Traa, Norway; silver, Shannon Bahrke, United States; bronze, Tae Satoya, Japan

Cross country skiing, women's 15 km free: Gold, Stefania Belmondo, Italy; silver, Larissa Lazutina, Russia; bronze, Katerina Neumannova, Czech Republic

Cross country skiing, men's 30 km free: Gold, Johann Muehlegg, Spain; silver, Christian Hoffmann, Austria; bronze, Mikhail Botvinov, Austria

Speedskating, men's 5000m: Gold, Jochem Uytdehaage, Netherlands; silver, Derek Parra, United States; bronze, Jens Boden, Germany

Medals: Alpine skiing, men's downhill; nordic combined, individual K90 and 15K; ski jumping, K90 Individual; snowboarding, women's halfpipe; speedskating, ladies' 3000m

Musical act: Lifehouse

In a break from tradition, bronze medalists were honored first, followed by silver and then gold medalists.

The crowd's energy remained high during the medals ceremonies, something that wasn't lost on U.S. freestyle skier Shannon Bahrke, who picked up a silver medal on the ladies' moguls.

"Now I know what it would be like (to be) a football player walking into the Super Bowl," Bahrke said after the medals-presentation ceremony.

However, U.S. speedskater and silver medalist Derek Parra questioned whether the enthusiasm was for the athletes or for the concert.

"We come out here and we're like, 'Wow,' and it was great in this atmosphere. . . . But we're not sure if they're here for us or the band," Parra said. "Everybody's cheering louder now for Dave Matthews. I just wish there was a way that we could reward the people who actually came out to the oval and watched the race."

Still, many others left after the awarding of the medals, not even staying past the first song.

"We only care about the medals," said Warren Klug, Aspen, Colo. "I really wanted to come and see the American athletes and congratulate them."

Kathy and Warren Klug are the parents of U.S. snowboarder Christopher Klug.

Thousands of people who crowded into Salt Lake Olympic Square Saturday night were able to hear the concert, which was piped into speakers in the middle of the streets. Hundreds also pressed up against the chain link fence surrounding the plaza to catch a glimpse of the band.


Contributing: Brady Snyder

E-mail: awelling@desnews.com