SBJ/February 18 - 24, 2002/This Weeks Issue

Games provide respite for exec who helped land them

No one in Salt Lake City is more elated that the Olympic Winter Games are happening across northern Utah — and no one will be more saddened to see the event and its many visitors leave — than a 43-year-old software executive named Dave Johnson.

Johnson
In 1986, he was part of a Salt Lake group resolved to bring the Games to the communities of the Wasatch Range. Nine years later, the International Olympic Committee selected Salt Lake as 2002 host after an extensive campaign led by businessman Tom Welch and his top deputy, Johnson.

Welch
That was to be their finest hour, but it was followed in 1999 by their darkest, when both were exiled from the Olympic world amid allegations that they had masterminded a vote-buying strategy to secure IOC support of the Salt Lake bid for the Games. The turn of events forced the IOC to make sweeping changes and compelled the U.S. Justice Department to charge Johnson and Welch with 15 counts of fraud, racketeering and conspiracy connected to approximately $1 million in alleged bribes.

"The last three years have been very difficult," said Johnson, talking on a cell phone as he returned from the Olympic men's downhill skiing competition last week. "For my family and I, we've been through our lowest lows, and now we're having some of our highest highs."

Johnson was attending events as a guest of various international sports federation officials with whom he has maintained friendships.

The arrival of the Games reunited Johnson with friends and adversaries from his years within Olympic circles, and has been a welcome distraction from a still-looming legal battle with the federal government. Although many of the old IOC guard are gone — those who turned a blind eye to a culture encouraging gifts and cash from bid cities — and the Salt Lake community has all but forgotten the so-called scandal, government attorneys in January appealed the dismissal of the case by a district judge last year.

But, for now, as the Olympic flame burns in the hills above Salt Lake City, Johnson said he is vindicated. "There isn't a street I walk down," he said, "that somebody doesn't come up to me to express their appreciation."

 “GLOBAL TORCH” SPARKS ATTENTION: Worldwide Olympics sponsor Visa will continue to examine a proposal by organizers of the Athens 2004 Summer Games to stage a multination Olympic torch relay.

"They have talked to us," said Visa's Mike Sherman, vice president of corporate communications. "It could be a good [sponsorship] opportunity because we want to do everything we can to leverage the brand and the Games. It is certainly an opportunity we will look at."

Coca-Cola, a global Olympics partner and sponsor of the recently concluded torch relay to Salt Lake City, also is reported to be interested.

  NEW ERA LASTS 48 HOURS: On the eve of the Games, the IOC's executive board announced it had approved new conflict-of-interest guidelines for its members. But when the entire IOC convened two days later, the membership voted to table the conflict-of-interest plan for "further review." The timing was curious, as the ruling came in the very city that is at the center of the 1999 votes-for-cash controversy.

"You want transparency, but you want the system to be simple," said IOC secretary general Francois Carrard.

He dismissed claims that, by failing to adopt the guidelines now, the IOC is ignoring its Ethics Commission, which recommended the new policies in the first place. As it stands, the IOC will not consider adoption of a conflict-of-interest procedure for nine months.

  KOSS AND EFFECT: One of the most visible, young figures among Olympic officials in Salt Lake City is Norwegian speed skating star and 1994 Olympic champion Johann Koss. An IOC member, Koss is also the global spokesman for Olympic Aid, which supports projects in impoverished countries, and has a high-profile role with the World Anti-Doping Agency. Sponsors want Koss around, too. He was front and center with IOC President Jacques Rogge and Salt Lake Games chief Mitt Romney when Samsung opened its Olympic Rendezvous family center in downtown Salt Lake last week.

  WATCHING AND LEARNING:

Gianna Angelopoulos Daskalaki
The maligned organizers of Athens 2004 are at the Games in force as observers. The delegation is led by the charismatic socialite Gianna Angelopoulos Daskalaki, who is showing up at receptions around town in a fur jacket and elaborate jewelry. Her perpetual smile may reflect that Athens has enlisted two key members of Sydney's 2000 Olympic organizing team to help overcome years of missed deadlines.

Reach Steve Woodward at the Games at SteveWoodwardHere@hotmail.com.

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Related Topics:

Olympics, This Week's Issue, Visa

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