Community leaders as well as former and future Olympians met at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Tuesday for a commemorative lighting of the torch to celebrate 20 years since the Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City, while also looking forward with hope for the Games to return.
The event that many community members attended was led by president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, Fraser Bullock, who spoke about reflecting back and looking forward. He also referred to Utah leaders and politicians as "the dream team" who he said will help get the Olympics back to Utah.
One of those "dream team" members Fraser mentioned was Gov. Spencer Cox, who spoke to the audience about the lasting impact that the 2002 Olympic Games had on Utah. Cox also said that the 2002 Olympics served as a way to bring the world back together.
"So much of what we love and enjoy here in Utah can be tied to what happened back in 2002," Cox said. "It was when the world discovered Utah, and when Utah welcomed the world. It was a time when we all came together."
"Do you remember it was right after 9/11 when the world was a scary place, and we needed that moment, and Utah delivered that moment. … We showed the world that we care about each other. ... We need that Olympic spirit — that spirit of giving back, and of volunteerism. The world is desperate for it, and we have it here in Utah. We need to show the world that we can do it again."
‘Get the volunteer jackets back out!’
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall also reflected back on the 2002 Olympics — even encouraging those who volunteered 20 years ago to "Get those volunteer jackets back out!" She said that Utah overwhelmingly supports another Olympic Games, and that she looks forward to a new generation experiencing the Games in Utah.
"What we're seeing here is an embodiment of the momentum that I believe lives in us as Utahns every single day," she said. "Our love for winter sport and our passion for the Olympics was ignited in 2002, but has been alive every single day since then."
"More than 80% of Utahns are in support of future Games," Mendenhall said. "What that says to me is that those of us who were here back in 2002 are hungry to welcome the world again, and also that the kids we brought up, and the new people who have come to live in this state feel that passion, too. Utah is ready. We are ready to welcome the world again."
‘A chance to realize childhood dreams’
Four-time Olympic speedskater Catherine Raney Norman, who participated in the 2002 Olympic Games and serves as chair of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, reflected on her time as an Olympian, and said that Utah is a special place.
"This evening is really taking me back to 20 years ago," she said. I remember 20 years ago we were queuing up outside the stadium alongside my fellow Olympians. For all of us, it was this tremendous opportunity to not only represent our country, but to realize our childhood dreams. ... It was something that set the stage for what is truly unique and special here in Utah, and it's the culture and spirit of the Olympic and Paralympic movement that continues on today. We have 75 athletes who are representing Team USA today over in Beijing doing us proud."
‘The Olympic flame has a unifying influence’
Fraser concluded the evening by reflecting on his time running the Olympic torch on the streets of Manhattan in 2002, not long after the attacks on 9/11. He spoke about how unifying the experience was, and how he hopes another Games in Utah will do the same.
"It was mind-blowing to see the thousands of people gathered along the streets of Manhattan, seeing the outpouring of emotion post 9/11, but people still cheering on the flame to take us forward," he said. "The flame has a unifying influence in the world."
"As we look forward, we look back to the magic of 2002. The magic was of the Games, but it was also the magic of the legacy that continued forward … our star as an Olympic and Paralympic state has been shining brightly. Now we want it to shine again even more brightly by hosting future Games as early as 2030."
The evening concluded with a lighting of the torch by two young Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls — Gabrielle Harris of Team Soldier Hollow Cross Country and Biathlon, and YiYi O'Brien, National Abilities Center Youth Adaptive Program athlete. The cauldron will remain lit through Feb. 12.
House honors 2002 Games
Earlier Tuesday, the Utah House of Representatives voted to unanimously approve a joint resolution to recognize the 20th anniversary of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games as well as encourage "continued efforts to maintain Olympic winter sport venues."
The resolution's sponsor, Rep. Jon Hawkins, R-Pleasant Grove, said on the House floor he remembered the day in 1995 when Salt Lake City was announced for the 2002 Games, then again the day of the Games' opening ceremony when the cauldron was lit.
"The world turned its attention to our great state," Hawkins said.
"In those years between the announcement and the lighting ceremony, our Olympic committee and our communities went to work building facilities, organizing volunteer and security efforts, and creating a palpable excitement to welcome the world to Salt Lake City," Hawkins said.
Hawkins said state leaders "even nicknamed the reconstruction of I-15 'The Luge' in preparation on the international stage."
"It became the most successful Winter Olympics in history," Hawkins said, "and a lot of that is due to our Olympic legacy foundation and our predecessors in this respected body. But our Olympic heritage neither began with receiving the bid nor ended with extinguishing the flame."
Hawkins said Utah not only lays claim to the "greatest snow on Earth," but also the "fastest ice on Earth" at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns. As the 2022 Winter Olympics play out in Beijing, 75 members of Team USA's 225-member contingent "call Utah home," Hawkins said, also noting athletes from around the world still train at Utah's facilities.
"So as we mark the 20h anniversary of the opening of the Salt Lake City Olympic Games, we recognize the contributions of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, and our state leaders and visionaries who helped make the 2002 Winter Olympics a success," Hawkins said.