It's become THE place to be during the 2002 Winter Olympics, and there's not a ski jump, bobsled track or ice rink in sight.

But what the Olympic Medals Plaza will have every night of the 17-day Games is the world's ranking winter sports athletes and some of the nation's hottest entertainers.

Located on what was once a parking lot between North and South Temple and 200 and 300 West, the Plaza's sky-high bleachers and miles of blue fence wrap has made it Salt Lake's most visible venue.

And with free nightly concerts following the medals ceremonies, its tickets quickly joined the most-wanted ranks, joining the likes of figure skating and men's ice hockey tickets.

Would-be concertgoers lined up outside Smith's and Hallmark stores for their shot at tickets, and the passes have become popular radio station giveaways.

One Salt Lake ticket broker reports selling a single ticket the Dave Matthews Band performance for $150, and pairs went for up to $200 on Internet auction sites.

Organizers have some advice to the Plaza's estimated 20,000 nightly visitors — be on time and dress warmly.

The main gates at 300 West will open at 5:30 p.m. each night, and local entertainment will entertain crowds until the medals ceremonies begin precisely at 8:06 p.m.

The gold, silver and bronze medals will be awarded to the day's top three finishers in all sports other than short track speedskating, figure skating and ice hockey. Those medalists will be honored at the Delta Center (Salt Lake Ice Center) and the E Center in West Valley City.

However, the athletes will make an appearance and be recognized at the following night's ceremonies. Medals Plaza venue press chief Margaret Plavocos expects each ceremony to last about 5 minutes, so depending on how many medals are awarded, concerts will begin between 8:45 and 9 p.m.

But for all those ticket holders expecting to skip the medals pomp and circumstance, think again.

Doors close at 7:30 p.m., more than one hour before the musicians take the stage. And those who arrive late, even those with valid tickets, will be forced to listen to the concert from the other side of the chain link fence, Plavocos said.

Once inside, the Plaza visitors' main concern will be keeping themselves warm. Layered clothing, hats, gloves and good shoes are a must. Blankets are also a good idea, Plavocos said.

Because the majority of the concert seating is general assignment, people can expect to be standing most of the time, Plavocos said. The bleachers are mainly reserved for Olympic families and dignitaries. Two large screens will be set up on either side of the stage.

Food and drinks will be on sale to warm visitors from the inside (soup, chili and hot drinks), as well as cold drinks for the brave. Alcohol will not be sold inside the Plaza.

Ogden resident Rick Fennell plans to bundle up himself, his wife, and three children, ages 8, 11 and 14, and spend Valentine's Day with Sheryl Crow.

"We're going to dress up like we're going skiing, other than ski boots," he said. Unlike some other unhappy ticket holders, Fennell was able to get passes to his first choice of a concert. Although he does admit his children (all girls) would probably have been happier at the Feb. 23 'NSync performance.

In addition to the official celebrations inside the Olympic Medals Plaza, an unofficial celebration of sorts will take place in the surrounding blocks.


E-mail: awelling@desnews.com