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2002 Olympic Games Were Special Time for Utah

2002 Olympic Games Were Special Time for Utah



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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Shelley Osterloh Reporting It was five years ago today that Utah hosted the world for the 2002 Olympic Games. For 17 days the world's best winter athletes competed for Olympic glory. Worldwide, 2.1 billion people in 160 countries watched, and so did we.

It was a special time in American history. Salt Lake hosted the games just five months after the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and America needed something to cheer about, to be proud of, to embrace. Team USA did not disappoint, winning 34 medals -- to this day still the most ever at Winter Games.

The Olympics gave us some memorable moments and images and a new outlook on the world and ourselves.

Halfpipe snowboarders gave us a reason to cheer, sweeping gold, silver and bronze. Speed skater Derek Parra was the first Mexican American to win gold at the Winter Games. Jen Rodrigez was the first Cuban American to win a winter medal. Vonetta Flowers was the first African American woman to win gold.

Less than two years before the games, snowboard racer Chris Klug was dying but after getting a liver transplant won bronze in the parallel giant slalom. The United States snapped a 46-year bobsled medal drought when Todd Hays and five-time Olympian Bryan Shimer took silver and bronze.

Tristan Gale became the first woman to win gold in skeleton. And we cheered with Jimmy Shea Jr. who showed us, even after tremendous personal loss -- the death of his grandfather to a drunk driver --- that it's possible to come back strong. Jack Shea, a gold medalist in the 30's, said we often see the true Olympic spirit shine more in defeat than in triumph.

We saw it on the tear-streaked face of Michele Kwan who, for a second time, lost a gold medal to a teenager. We watched Eric Bergoust miss the landing of a jump that dropped him from first to last, and the defending Olympic Champions calmly fielded questions.

Three-time Olympian Picabo Street ended her racing career, unable to add another medal to the two she already had. In the midst of a judging scandal, Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier showed remarkable sportsmanship when they were awarded silver, and a week later it was their Russian competitors who graciously shared their golden moment.

We cheered for our Utah athletes, like Joe Pack, Shannon Bahrke and Chris Witty. We saw the best of Olympic sportsmanship and the worst.

If you were among the Utahns who volunteered, bought a ticket to an event, or just watched on TV, you, too, shared in those special Olympic moments.

Now an update on some of those people. Park City is home to Jimmy Shea Jr., who helps raise money for Youth Sports groups. Tristan Gale is starting a coaching career, last I saw working with Russian Sliders.

Chris Klug is still competing, but he never misses a chance to urge people to become organ donors, and there's a new documentary out about him.

Derek Parra is now recruiting and training in-line skaters for the U.S. Speedskating team.

And as a result of the judging scandal, a whole new system is in place for figure skating, one that seems to be working much better than the old one.

As for us, we still have our memories.

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