It is officially called the International Zone of the Olympic Village. It is a place at the old Fort Douglas where athletes from all nations can gather during the Olympics to interact, play video games, send e-mail, sip on a hot beverage and even get their hair coiffured.

Or burst with American pride.

At least that's what happened for about an hour on Tuesday as the international site turned into the American Zone.

The U.S. hot spot included Old West-style building motifs, American Indian dancers, a flag-raising presentation and dozens of Team USA athletes bundled from head to toe in snazzy red, white and blue patriotic outfits.

All the fanfare was part of the Team Welcome Ceremony — an official presentation during which the Olympic Village hosts literally roll out the red carpet for the participating athletes from each country. It was America's turn Tuesday from 11 a.m. to noon.

Utah businessman Spencer F. Eccles, mayor of the Olympic Village, welcomed the U.S. contingency, which included about 60 American athletes.

The ceremony included a song by a children's choir, several tribal dances by the Native American 2002 Foundation.

Eccles was especially proud to open the Olympic Village to the Americans. "What a day. What a day, huh? We've been waiting for this all these years, and now it's here. It's special," Eccles said.

"We wish you the very best of luck," he said.

He ended his remarks with the rally cry, "Now, bring home the bacon."

Eccles drew a chuckle from the crowd twice with the "bacon" comment. First, on the initial statement, then again after the French translator (all official Olympic activities are announced in English and French) briefly summarized his speech — but sans his final point.

"I'm not sure she translated that last part," he quipped.

Nonetheless, the U.S. athletes got the message — in English, at least. And even more inspiring for the medal-hungry group was listening to the national anthem as the flag was raised.

"Hopefully," said U.S. figure-skating star Todd Eldredge, "that's not the last time we hear it."

Not all of the U.S. participants — Team USA has 211 athletes — have made it to Utah yet, and others were busy training at their venues on Tuesday so they couldn't attend.

Most of the American Olympians will be at opening ceremonies Friday, the noticeable exception being the men's hockey team. (The NHLers won't compete until Feb. 15).

Dan Campbell, a biathlon athlete from Hastings, Minn., was excited to be a part of an actual Olympic experience. "It's a lot more official now," he said. "It all makes it sink in more."

Jimmy Shea, a U.S. skeleton slider, gave a glowing report of the athletes' home for the next few weeks.

"The village is amazing," he said. "The volunteers are out of this world. The food is awesome. Meeting athletes from different countries is great. This is really amazing."


E-MAIL: jody@desnews.com