Salt Lake's nice recovery

Outside editorial

Posted: Monday, December 10, 2001

This editorial appeared in today's Los Angeles Times:

The mountains of the Wasatch Front east of Salt Lake City are buried in new snow, the torch is making its way across the country and personal dramas abound as the 2002 Olympic Winter Games approach. Can Herman "the Terminator" Maier, the Austrian ski racing phenomenon, come back from a near-fatal motorcycle accident in time to compete? Will Picabo Street, the American downhill darling of the 1998 Nagano Games, complete an almost impossible recovery from a smashed leg and knees? Can Michelle Kwan, now a veritable old lady at 21, collect the figure skating gold that eluded her at Nagano?

The glitter is shining through the remnants of a bribery scandal, but organizers of the Games, opening Feb. 16, can't seem to free themselves from controversy. The latest is a General Accounting Office report showing the cost of the Games approaching $2 billion, more than five times the cost of the last winter Olympics held in this country, at Lake Placid, N.Y., in 1980 (even after accounting for inflation).

The report, however, drew no complaint from Mitt Romney, who took over as president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee after a scandal erupted in 1998 over the use of cash, gifts and favors to woo the votes of International Olympic Committee members.

Romney, a venture capitalist who ran a close Senate race against Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., in 1994, says he cut spending by about $200 million after taking the job and would have trimmed more if he had had more time. He deserves a round of mittened applause for his position that each Olympics does not have to be bigger than the last one and that the focus should be on the athletes.

From one standpoint, the 2002 cost figures are not alarming. While the federal government put up about half the money for the Lake Placid Games, it will provide only about 17 percent for the Salt Lake Olympics. More than half of that amount will go to security, something that should cause no quarrel after Sept. 11 and might draw back potential visitors now deterred by the threat of terrorism.

Romney and the revitalized Salt Lake committee have pulled off a remarkable rescue of the Games from the despair of early 1999. Now the athletes can take the spotlight with their heads up.

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