SBJ/March 26 - April 1, 2001/Olympics

Near-perfection a pain for Salt Lake venues

Less than a year out from the opening of the 2002 Winter Olympics next Feb. 8 in Salt Lake City, all 10 competition venues now have hosted world-class test events.

With great success at every stop.

Instead of being thrilled at such a turn of events, however, executives of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee are feeling a minor case of nerves.

"You'd expect me to be smiling since all went well and our venues impressed the athletes and federations involved," said Mitt Romney, SLOC president and CEO. "In a way, though, things probably were too good. We expected some problems and difficulties to pop up and, frankly, we hoped they would happen so we could learn how to deal with glitches and whatever else might go wrong."

Instead, the closest thing to an emergency was a bobble at the start of a snowboarding parallel slalom race at Park City Mountain Resort. There were malfunctions with the timing devices and a gate failed to open properly at the start of a run.

"All it amounted to was that a vehicle had run over some cables," Romney said. "Other than that, everything at the various venues seemed to go off so smoothly that we didn't get to practice hurry-up procedures for problems that might come up during the Games themselves."

SLOC operations people did have a few headaches getting the Utah Olympic Oval speedskating track properly prepared for an event in February. Some loose pipes were discovered under the ice surface, so construction crews had to tear up the entire concrete base and rebuild it.

All the work was finished on time, however, and the ice turned out to be first rate. Three world records were broken during the test event.

The fact that each of these venues was rated outstanding by participants seems even more remarkable considering their cost. The SLOC put up just $250 million — out of its projected budget of $1.31 billion — for venue construction or rental.

Organizers of the 1998 Nagano Games spent $2.74 billion overall (adjusted to 2002 dollars). An even more startling contrast is that Salt Lake's speedskating oval was built for $30 million — including a three-month delay for repairs on a broken roof fitting — compared to the $300 million oval that was used in Nagano.

"We used some unique approaches," Romney said. "We take pride in Yankee ingenuity, and that was absolutely necessary considering the budget we've got."

Possibly the best example of cost-cutting was combining the cross-country skiing and biathlon facilities, something that never had been done at any previous Olympics. As a result, Soldier Hollow will host both events and it cost just $11.7 million.

"I don't how much more it would have been to separate them," Romney said, "but it would be at least double."

Perhaps considerably more, actually, given the fact that the SLOC struggled to find that single suitable site that met competitive and environmental requirements.

Romney indicated that while there still is quite a bit of work to do on most venues, he believed the SLOC's initial budget would be met.

The SLOC boss also said that the projected $40 million post-Games legacy promised to the nonprofit Utah Athletic Foundation to operate the skating oval and Utah Olympic Park — site of the ski jumps as well as the bobsled-luge track — will be paid out as planned.

"Our goal was to make our venues economically and environmentally friendly," Romney said, "and I believe we've accomplished that. Is our skating oval as beautiful as the one in Nagano? Well, maybe not, unless you consider economy beautiful. I'd say that getting an outstanding building done for 10 percent of what it cost at the previous Games makes it look beautiful to me."

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