A spectator's Olympic dream fulfilled

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Olympic dreams. We hear that phase often from the commentators of the Olympic Games. Usually, it refers to the competitors, those incredible athletes who sacrifice the pleasures of youth to train virtually each and every day all in the pursuit of excellence and Olympic gold.

My Olympic dreams were much more modest, I just wanted to go to the Winter Games once in my life. The Salt Lake City venue was too tempting but even with the close proximity, my husband, Tom and I debated our concerns about crowds, long lines, security hassles, traffic, logistics nightmares, tickets and lodging.

After several false starts, my husband said, "If we don't get tickets we will just have to ski at Alta." Not a bad alternative.

He booked a room at the Peruvian Hotel in Alta, one of his favorite hangouts. We packed up the car, skis, snowshoes, warm clothes and a case of wine in the event of a drought. At daybreak, we headed down Highway 80 with no expectations other than getting a great breakfast at the Griddle in Winnemucca.

By 3:00 that afternoon, we had scored tickets to the opening ceremonies, the men's downhill, and the controversial pairs figure skating. No problem, we went downtown, stumbled around and ran into several people selling tickets. By and large, most tickets were going for below face value, which was good because the face value of Opening Ceremony tickets was prohibitive. Through Tom's shrewd negotiations, we bought everything for substantially below face value.

We skied the next two days at Alta, a skier's paradise -- no snowboards allowed. Then in the late afternoon after a mouthwatering garlic burger at the Cotton Bottom, we drove to the Cottonwood Mall, one of the sites for public transportation. Twenty or so buses from throughout the U.S. were there, they loaded us into the one from St. Louis, and we spent the next 30 minutes talking to Winter Games pilgrims, like ourselves.

Security at the Opening Ceremonies was thorough but due to the large number of volunteers, it only took about three minutes. We went through the gate, they took our tickets, and we entered Rice-Eccles Stadium on the University of Utah campus two hours before the event was to begin.

Shopping was out of the question. Olympic shoppers were lined up 100-plus in crowding, shoving masses. The food consisted of fat-gram

infused hot dogs or nachos.

We found our seats and a welcomed seat cushion, since it was expected to get into the teens that night. We also found a number of audience participation items: a flashlight, a two-colored flash card, and a white paper poncho. Our audience participation leader instructed us to wear the poncho. Like a herd of sheep, we all donned this garment, looking like outcasts from the KKK.

The show began with a perfectly cued light snow. The raising of the flag from the World Trade Center was heart wrenching, President Bush was introduced to wild applause, and the National Anthem was sung.

The athletes' parade began. It was great to see their eager, young faces and cheer them on. They were so thrilled to be there. For some, it was about the gold and for others, like the alpine skier from Ireland, it was about the journey.

The music of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Utah Symphony was a delight to the senses. The sound in the stadium was perfectly balanced, giving the music a crystal clear, acoustic quality. I dutifully held up my flashlight, providing a light from without if not from within. Near the end of the show, it was time for us to get out our rather large flash cards and mine would not open. I was still fighting with my oversized poncho when

the sign said "Flash," so if you saw a blip in the flame, it was probably me. Overall, it was a magical evening filled with pyrotechnics, patriotism, singers, ice skaters, fantasy, Indians, cowboys, all performing to the backdrop of angels singing.

The next day, a Salt Lake Tribune column headline read, "Utah Sighs Relief." Clearly, there was a question in the minds of some as to whether or not the Salt Lake Olympics Committee could pull it off. But pull it off, they did.

We used public transportation to the other events with only minor glitches, there were no security hassles and no terrorist attacks, and there were no traffic jams. I guess there was a minor riot the night before closing ceremonies when several thousand revelers could not get into the Bud party complete with Bud girls and Clydesdales. The mayor of Salt Lake City could not figure out why everyone was going to the Bud party and not to the party he was throwing in Legacy Square. Duhhh!

Overall, we had a ball. On the drive home, we stopped for a scrumptious Basque lunch at the Martin Hotel in Winnemucca. The construction workers at the bar were conducting a heated discussion about the pairs figure skating controversy. I guess everyone got caught up Olympic fever.

Linda E. Johnson is a wife, mother, attorney, a 27-year resident of the Carson City and a skier with no Olympic aspirations.


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