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Relighting the fire within Day 6: Homefield advantage at 2002 Games yielded benefits

SHARE Relighting the fire within Day 6: Homefield advantage at 2002 Games yielded benefits

SALT LAKE CITY — Not all the benefits of hosting the second winter Olympics on U.S. soil were manifest in February 2002.

Some of the benefits took years to come to fruition and many more will be felt far into the future.

"I think having an Olympic Games in your home country, well, it's a couple of things," said USSA president Bill Marolt. "We had an experienced team, but this essentially gave us homefield advantage."

And what "homefield" means in winter sports is every bit as important as it is in arenas and fields that host more traditional sports.

"It offers tremendous opportunities for support," Marolt said. "Corporate support, fan support, donor support and having those things gave us momentum coming in and as we went out of the Games. It is a huge advantage in almost every respect."

That means that it wasn't just the medals won at the Salt Lake Games, but the financial support that helped set these programs up for success in Torino (2006), Vancouver (2010) and beyond.

The Alpine team was expected to claim more medals than it did — just two silvers won by Bode Miller. But the USSA met its goal of 10 medals for their disciplines, thanks to the newest additions — aerials, moguls and snowboarding.

But what might be more important is that two of the most accomplished women to ever ski for the U.S. were competing in their first Olympic Games at 17 years old that winter — Julia Mancuso and Lindsey Vonn. Both own multiple Olympic medals today and Vonn (who was Lindsey Kildow back then) has shattered dozens of records on the World Cup.

"I'm so lucky to race here (at Snowbasin). I had that feeling today, and I'll never forget it," said Vonn in 2002.

And Mancuso had similar feelings.

She battled nerves, but made a promise she subsequently kept in 2006 and 2010 when she added, "I held on and finished. With experience, I'll do better."

Despite winter sports not being king in this country, the television time and success of U.S. athletes drew many to sports like biathlon, curling, luge, nordic combined, skeleton and bobsled that continue to motivate aspiring Olympians and appreciative fans.

And it doesn't hurt that the events drew universal praise from athletes, coaches and fans for the way in which each venue hosted their individual sport.

"I think the 2002 Games were, in my opinion, the best ever in almost any way you evaluate an Olympic Games," said Marolt. "The competition venues were really, really well done, great fan support, every venue was sold out every day. The competition was ideal, the entertainment, everything that went on around the games, the easy access of the mountains — it was just a great celebration."

Email: adonaldson@desnews.com