On Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee advanced Salt Lake City to the next stage of bidding for the 2034 Winter Games and named SLC the preferred candidate in the bidding process. The IOC still needs to vote to make it official, but it’s more than likely that Salt Lake City will host the games in a decade.
In the wake of the news, there’s a palpable buzz of excitement among Utahns, especially those of us who lived here during the 2002 Winter Games and are now reveling in the nostalgia of one of the best times of our collective lives.
Every memory I have from that winter is magical. My neighbors and I gathered to watch a runner carry the Olympic torch past the Provo Library. My high school sent me and a group of other students to watch a women’s hockey game at the Seven Peaks Ice Arena. My extended family trekked up the canyon to join hordes of spectators for the ski jump finals. I saw the Goo Goo Dolls — one of the early aughts’ most earnest rock bands — perform downtown after a medal ceremony.
But it wasn’t just the actual games and official events that were exciting. It was everything about having the world’s biggest celebration in out town. We mingled with visitors from all over the Earth who had descended on our state which was gleaming with recent upgrades and improved infrastructure for the Games. I remember asking a man in a Park City restaurant if he knew where the bathroom was, and he responded, “You mean the dunny?” in a thick Australian accent. A thrill unmatched to this day.
We Utahns did our best to dress the part. Volunteers got official hats and the much-coveted official parka with the SLC 2002 logo embroidered on the back. I sometimes still see people wearing their jackets out in the wild and am always immediately filled with the warm, comforting glow of nostalgia.
But even us everyday civilians donned the appropriate garb. We traded pins, the most coveted of which was the green Jell-O pin, and wore them on our lapels and lanyards. We wore and rang cowbells, and we bought or tried to buy, the Roots beret.
The Roots beret was worn by Canadian athletes during the opening ceremonies of the games. The second we all saw it on our television screens, we knew we had to have it.
The beret — made of dark blue polar fleece with red trim by a Canadian apparel company called Roots — started popping up atop heads all over the state. Citizens wore their berets everywhere. Not just to the Olympics. To the mall. To the bank. To church. The coolest girl in school? She had the beret. The mailman? He had a beret. The cute lifty at the ski resort? He had the beret.
They were sold at the Roots store, which had opened in the Gateway shopping center. Every day the line outside the Roots store grew longer with customers hungry for a hat, and, capitalism is going to capitalize, so an unofficial marketplace popped up, where hats were bought and sold for obscene amounts of cash.
By the time I got around to acquiring a hat of my own, the line outside the store was a two-hour wait and the price from off-market sellers was north of $100. I had all of $47 to my name at the time, and couldn’t convince any adult in my life, all of whom were annoyingly reasonable, to wait in line in the cold on a winter night or to spend triple digits for a hat.
And so, the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of fashion and cultural significance slipped through my fingers. I never got a Roots beret of my own, and it’s haunted me for the past 21 years. And I’m not alone.
But now, fate has smiled on us beret-less Olympic veterans, as I always knew deep down that it would. What goes around comes around, and the Olympics are coming back around, probably. AND THEY HAD BETTER BRING THE ROOTS BERET WITH THEM.
I’ve waited two decades to get my hands on that hat, or rather the hat on my head, and if Roots, which I’m pretty sure is still a company(?), has any sense, they’ll reboot the beret for 2034.
And when they do, I’ll be first in line to buy.