Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Olympic experience, 2002

In February 2002, Lori and I lived in an apartment in Cottonwood Heights, Utah, on a ridge with a balcony that overlooked most of the Salt Lake Valley. From our bedroom window, on the opposite side of the apartment from the balcony, we could see some of Salt Lake City proper. From that window, for two weeks, we could see a little orange light glowing approximately 12 miles away.

What we were seeing was the Olympic cauldron. The flame was visible that far away.

We moved to Utah in 2000 with the Olympics in mind. We had been growing restless in Madison and were ready to leave Wisconsin. Admittedly, Utah with all the preconceptions attached to it, was someplace I would have normally sent a resume, too. But the 2002 Olympics were imminent, and the chance to work as a sports journalist in Salt Lake City during the Games was so alluring. Lori was excited at the prospect as well, figuring we could always reassess or situation after the Olympics were over.

February 2002 didn't disappoint. Aside from the experience of working at The Salt Lake Tribune helping produce daily Olympic sections, being here during the Games was, simply, so much fun. We saw several events live -- nothing too marquee (or expensive) and always during the day because I worked every night, but fun nonetheless (I'll admit it -- curling was my favorite). We had friends stay with us during the first week of the Games, and though I didn't get to see them that much, having them here was great. The atmosphere in SLC was so festive and vibrant -- there's never been a party in this city quite like the 2002 Olympics.

Yes, the Games were tiring. Not including the last day of the Games, I had one day off in 15 (and the last day, I went into work anyway for the beginning of the post-Olympics staff party that started at the office, migrated to someone's house, and lasted well into the night). The first week of the Games were actually chilly for Utah in February (but by the last weekend, temperatures climbed into the 50s). We walked up the hill to the ski jumping venue in Park City and got a pin for our efforts, but damn, that was uphill for a mile (and we saw a female moose on the way -- I am convinced Olympics officials planted it, a la "Funny Farm"). We got stuck in traffic trying to leave the biathlon venue.

But I would drive home every night and pass the Olympic cauldron, then see the Olympic rings lit up on the mountainside, and forget how tired I was.

As I said, I didn't work the last day of the Games. Lori and I watched the closing ceremonies from our apartment and actually saw the cauldron go out. The next day, the hangover began, and I don't mean from the party the night before. The whole city felt the hangover, a sense of "now what?". Ten years later, there's talk of bringing the Games back to SLC. Too many of us remember how great the Olympics were that we want them back.

Lori and I got through the Olympics and took several months deciding what to do next. In two years, we realized how much we liked Utah and how our lives were in a good place. Though we occasionally flirted with the idea of leaving, we stayed, got pregnant, bought a house and settled in.

Reminders of the Olympics pepper Salt Lake City -- monuments, the cauldron (which got turned on a couple weeks ago, but we didn't get a chance to see it), the Olympic fountain and the snowflake logo of the 2002 Games, to name a few. The Games left their own legacy with us, as well. The Olympics brought us here, and this is where we stayed after they were done. I have written before on how one can go crazy by playing the "what if" game, and it's sometimes unintentionally tempting to think how are lives would be different if I never sent my resume here. But I did, and the rest is history. The 2002 Olympics will forever live in our memories. The 10 years since have been even more spectacular.

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