Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service

Project Prologue

2002 Winter Olympic Games

Economic Legacy

In 1997, I started working for Governor Leavitt heading up Community and Economic Development.  Up until that time our business community had not really paid any attention to the potential of being able to develop our economy through the Olympic games, and I felt that we needed to have a close connection with the games.   Not only for the tremendous world-wide recognition we would get during the games, but we could build ourselves a legacy by continuing contacts after the games and using that as a springboard.  So I hired Jeff Robbins from Novell to be my Olympic coordinator.  Jeff had been a tennis player all his life and was extremely interested in sports and was ready to leave Novell at that time.

I had previously been a member of the oversight board for the publicly-supported athletic venue construction happening before the games.  It was the 58 million dollar bond issue that had been passed to help build some facilities for those sports that could not economically be self-sufficient and needed a subsidy.  We won the bid for the games in Budapest in 1995, which was a tremendous thing for the state.

Olympic Bid Scandal

A couple of years before the Olympics there was an Olympic bid scandal.  It was much lesser than what all the other bid cities had done over the years.  Diane Rehm, on public broadcasting, I remember listening to her just before we were having the Olympics, she was interviewing somebody about the Olympics, and she said, “I want to make one thing clear about this Olympic bid scandal, it is not Salt Lake City’s bid scandal, it is the International Olympic Committee’s scandal, revealed by Salt Lake City.”  And it really was, because people here in Salt Lake that decided that they had to make the whole thing public.  It was very minor compared to previous bids.  In a way, you could say it was us and our situation, the way we handled it, plus the changeover from Juan Antonio Samaranch to Jacques Rogge as the IOC president that really changed the way in which IOC does business and what they allow.

One thing that we did do that was brilliant when Tom Welsh was head of the committee was that we did a huge amount of cultivation. For example, he built a dossier on every member of the International Olympic Committee on who they were and what they liked to do.  Phil Rosenberg, the famous knee surgeon who does Tiger Woods, he had a Mormon mission in France, and was, of course, fluent in French.  The Olympic committee member from Algeria, which is a French-speaking former French colony, was the senior IOC member from the African continent.  Rosenberg was assigned to him for cultivation.  He knew the IOC member from Algeria had a son in medical school and Rosenberg arranged for the son to come to Salt Lake for postdoctoral training and taught him how to do knees and other orthopedics.  The first night we were in Budapest, we were in a restaurant called Gundall’s,  and the Algerian guy that was there stood up and said that he was going to vote for Salt Lake City and and that he was going to bring along as many of his colleagues from Africa as he could.  Later on we were talking to a couple that had kids that were in high school.  The man was Spanish speaking and he and his wife took on both Argentina and Chile as their IOC member targets, and they found out that all had either children or grandchildren in school and they arranged for exchange programs for their children.  The Utah children went down and lived with the families in Argentina or Chile for a year and they sent their children up to Utah for a school year.  That was the type of relationship building that we did.  It was probably still within the rules because it built friendship and confidence between the IOC members and the bid cities.

After winning the bid the oversight board became the Utah Athletic Foundation and it still runs two of the larger Olympic venues, the Olympic Park where the ski jumps, the bobsled luge, skeleton tracks and aerials training are, and the Olympic Oval in Kearns for the speed skating which has since been transformed to handle a lot of other sports.

Because the Olympics were successful, there was a surplus and a large portion of the surplus, over 50%, went to the Utah Athletic Foundation for an endowment to be able to make investments and use the money from investments to try to keep these facilities going in perpetuity, because they need about $4 million a year in subsidy.    The use of the facilities has grown every year since the Olympics.  We keep having world cups and sometimes world championship events in there.  We have youth training programs.  In the Oval we bring in other sports, too.  Last year, US Speed Skating transferred their headquarters out to the Oval and that’s both long track and short tracks.  Apolo Ohno trains here, now, for instance.   Eric Heiden, he’s a practicing physician in Park city now, came out here and he won five gold medals in the Olympics.   So we’re getting a lot of athletes that live and train here.  The Oval also has two regular figure skating and hockey-size ice sheets inside the Oval that goes around it.  Then we built a running track around the very outside of the long track ice which is used by all sorts high school students for having indoor track meets and various things like that.  The facility is getting a lot more use than we anticipated.

The ski jump facility is used in the summer as well as in the winter.  We put down a kind of Astroturf that jumpers can go off at the same speed and get the same distances as they do in the snow in the winter. We’ve developed womens’ ski jumping since the 2002 Olympics and it’s just about ready to become an Olympic sport.   There are still some issues to whether they’ll get in the Vancouver games in 2010.  One of the most amazing achievements is we got an 11 year old Park City girl off the largest (120 meter) jump just a year or two after the Olympic games were over.

We are trying to raise money for the aerialists.  We built this big summer training facility and they have a big splash pool and you can go up there and watch them go off these big jumps and do triple summersaults with 3 twists; and then just as few seconds before they’re going to land in the water, they turn on the big bubblator to cushion the water so you don’t have the impact of smashing your skis on still water.  That is tremendously popular, and, in fact, we had four nations at one time training their free-style aerial teams here last summer.  China, Australia, Canada, and US were all here at the same time.  It is a tremendous way to learn.  The woman that won the Olympics in 2002 is from Australia and I saw a video of her training area there which was splashing into a pond.  Then they had to swim over to the end of the ugly-looking pond and as they would get out, there was all this moss attached to their skis, and they had to crawl out on a muddy shore.  Now they have absolutely state-of-the-art training conditions.

Founding the Utah Sports Commission

During Mike Leavitt’s administration there were some ups and downs in the economy.  We had the big run up to the Silicon Valley bubble burst in late 1999- 2000.   Then there was a bit of a recession that went through to about 2002.  We were just coming out of it during the games.  Then we had some really good years after the games and Dave Harmer will be talking about those good years and some of the things he was able to accomplish in terms of getting more money for promotion of tourism and sports and also some more money for attracting businesses into the state.  And that was really timely because we had this great reputation coming out of the Olympics.  Finally, the economic upturn gave us more tax money that we could do some things with, and that was really big in the latter years of the Leavitt and Walker administrations.

We’ve been able to do a lot in terms of the sports legacy of the Olympics.  Jeff Robbins and I went on a trip back to Lake Placid, which has had the Olympic games in 1932 and in 1980.  Chris Sullivan, who was with the US Olympic Committee, was our host.  We spent two or three days there just trying to see what they did after their Olympics to keep things going.  They’re doing a great job, considering what a little town Lake Placid is.  We learned a lot from that and we came back to Utah to plan ways that would keep the buzz on after our Olympics.  One thing we learned is that there are sports commissions around the country.  They are usually support organizations that get their money from the government and sometimes from private sources.  There are over a hundred of these.   And there is actually an association of them with an executive director.  We decided we would set up a sports commission about two or three years before the games.  We incubated it in the Department of Community and Economic Development and Jeff became the full time director.  We hired in another person and we built up the strength and shortly before the Olympic games we were able to spin it out and privatize it.  Al Mansell, Senate President, became the chairman of the board, and we got people like Spence Eccles and Bob Garff, who are who very involved in the Olympic movement, on the board.  That organization was still small and fledgling at the end of the games, but we were set up and organized and ready to start competing for great events to follow on the Olympics.

The great success of the Olympics was really described best by Governor Leavitt when he said that the world now regards us, and we have been defined as, a place of competence, friendly people, and natural beauty.  That is our image.  About a year before the games, a poll was done in Western Europe, the countries that probably know the most about us.  The poll asked, have you ever heard of Utah and, if so, what do you think about it?  Only 9% had the foggiest idea about Utah.  17% had heard of Salt Lake City, mostly because they were a little bit aware of the Olympic games; they knew we were having the games in another year and a half.  Immediately after the games, that poll would have been close to 100% .

The games went off so very, very well for our reputation!  From the sports standpoint, we started competing for games and sports events that we thought would be popular in Western Europe and other places internationally from a television standpoint.  We started growing the sporting events we get here, for instance, the United States Junior Volleyball Championships.  You may think that’s not that great for economic development.  In actuality you’ve got 9,000 kids that are competing on hundreds of teams.  They’re here for 3 weeks in the summer which is off the ski season and they’re almost always with their parents and maybe siblings.  This is huge for our hotel and restaurant industry.  The Junior Volleyball Championships eventually migrated down to the Convention Center in Sandy where it’s even a bigger deal, twenty to thirty million dollars of economic impact.

Jeff Robbins recognized that there was a change in sports going on with the younger generation.  Extreme sports and action sports were really coming on, so he started going after some of those early, and today we have a tremendous legacy from that.  We have the Dew Action Sports Tour, the Xterra World Winter Games here. We have the Red Bull Rampage down in Virgin, Utah.  And we have all these different types of bike races, such as the Tour of Utah, and all of these give us huge TV exposure, plus a lot of fans. We had the highest attendance of any Dew Action Tour.  Those are those crazy guys on motorcycles who are flying upside down, etc.  In Virgin, Utah, mountain bikers jump 60 feet over a big chasm with just a bunch of rocks below.  There’s a lot of economic development coming to the state because of our foresight on action sports.

The Torch Relay

Before the Olympic games, we were able to get from the organizing committee 75 spots out of the total of 10,000 that were for the torch relay runners.  These are very highly sought after.  We decided we would use those spots to get business executives in about 10 major cities that we thought Utah should have good business connections with.  When the torch would come through that city, we’d have some of the people running and then we’d have a big event, a business to business exchange.  I think that turned out to be very popular and very valuable.  We were in places like Washington DC, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Austin, LA, San Jose, Atlanta, Seattle, etc.

There are a couple of fun anecdotes.  One is that in Austin, Texas, Lance Armstrong, instead of running with the torch, rode on his bicycle holding the torch from the Texas State Capitol down the Main Street of Austin.  All of these kids were running beside him, probably 200-300 of them, all of whom were cancer survivors.  That was one of the really emotional moments.  We were in this hotel nearby where we had this big reception afterwards, and that was terrific.

Another really interesting stop was one that we weren’t planning to do at first because Omaha, Nebraska, isn’t exactly a big business center.  But Union Pacific is headquartered there and we said to Governor Leavitt, if we can get Warren Buffet, (the wealthiest man in the world at the time) who lives there, to have dinner with you along with Dick Davidson, chair of Union Pacific, and Spence Eccles will be there, and the governor of Nebraska, and we could arrange everything, would you be interested?  He said he would be and so we did.  I think the way that we really nailed it is that one of our people noticed that Buffet had an unmarried daughter, Susie, and called her up and said, how would you like to run the torch relay?  And she was thrilled.  Then a few days later, we asked her if her dad might be interested in coming to dinner with our Governor and others, and the whole thing worked out.  We had dinner and the torch relay coming to Omaha was really a big deal because Union Pacific had the cauldron car.  The torch relay doesn’t run the whole route, but they’ll run a lot of routes within maybe 20 miles of the city, and then at the end of the day, the torch will light up this big cauldron car on the railroad.  That night it started out that in Omaha and ran down to Wichita, Kansas, and the next day was going to go to Oklahoma City.  During the night, this cauldron car, had thousands of people in Nebraska and Kansas, driving out to the tracks just to see this cauldron car zooming down the track with the huge flame.  It was a good deal for Union Pacific and they had a train set up, a couple of cars that some of  the VIPs actually rode in and had dinner and slept in as they were going.

Hosting During the Olympic Games

Another experience that was quite interesting was that during the games was that Mike and Olene were each committed to four or five things a night.  They would be in one place for about an hour and then they go on to the next place.  Many of the Heads of State and royalty were in town.  I didn’t even know Norway has a King.  There was a reception in Park City hosted by Norway and since Mike and Olene couldn’t make it I went as the number three state representative.  So I went and ended up standing in this reception line next to a person who turned out to be the King of Norway.  Mike and Olene both have fabulous endurance for stuff like that and just never wore out.  But this one night, it was near the end of the Olympics, there were quite a few governors in town and Mike was hosting all of them at the figure skating exhibition.  In the meantime, he had an appointment out at the Russia House (a lot of countries come into the Olympic games and rent out a place where their VIPs can host functions and it can be a hospitality house).  At the games in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1998, the Gastronomy guys rented a farmhouse with the help of our Olympic committee and they held fabulous dinners there at the “Salt Lake” house. By about halfway through the Olympics, all the top people wanted to get in there for dinner.  I went out to the Russia House because I knew that the Governor was going to be late and I was kind of holding the fort since Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, of Moscow, was there, and he was the number two or three most important politicians in all of Russia at the time.    And Yuri kind of looked like Krushchev, he’s a short, feisty guy, but just a lot of fun to be with, really a great personality and a dynamic person.  Leavitt didn’t show up for quite a long time and the Russians were getting real antsy.  In fact, they were starting to act like they hadn’t gotten the treatment they deserved.  I ended up having the photo shoot with a couple of their VIP’s, because Mike wasn’t there.  Anyway when Mike pulls in, he’s just great; it only takes him 30 seconds and everything is fine.  The television station had found out that Luzhkov and Leavitt were both going to be at the Russia House, so they had cameras ready.

The Moscow Youth Games

Luzhkov walks right up and he says, “Governor, I want to challenge you to a friendly competition between the youth of Moscow and the youth of Utah.  Moscow has more people than Utah, but Utah has more kids.  So it will be a fair fight.”  Mike says we’ll consider that.  They had a private little dinner with a couple of other people at about midnight and apparently Luzhkov talked to him some more about.  A couple of months after the games, I told the Governor that we probably need to respond to Yuri Luzhkov, one way or the other. He said, I’m thinking about it, maybe it will be worthwhile, maybe it will be fun, but we can’t spend any government money on it.  I said, that would make it pretty hard.  He said, let’s call up Luzhkov.  Finding an interpreter, so I got a guy named Sergei , just a great guy, and we got on the phone, we had a speaker going and Mike’s talking to Yuri.  Yuri says, we’re having a 16-nation youth athletic event here this June, come on over and we’ll show you how we do it.  We have a lot of experience with youth games Mike said.  I don’t know if I can make it, but Mr. Winder can get over there, you’ve met Mr. Winder.  So Jeff Robbins and I went over to Moscow and they had everything really well organized. We decided to go ahead and in the summer of ’03 that we would have summer games in Moscow and then in February of ‘04 we’d have winter games in Salt Lake City.

In the summer of ’03 we sent 300 of our best high school athletes and coaches over to Moscow to compete in 12 sports.  They sent almost that many back here to compete in the winter sports in ‘04.  We were about even with them in the winter sports, but in the summer sports they won everything but baseball and soccer.  We would have had to have the California and Texas and Utah all stars all put together on a team to really compete in the summer because Moscow is where all the best athletics are training in Russia.  The thing that was interesting was they put in a huge budget on this thing, and Russia is a lot less prosperous than we are, although Moscow is a prosperous city.  We’d go over there and all the time they’d put us in these cars with police escort with sirens going through the city and they’d have their loud speakers blasting and they’d be telling everybody get out of the way.  It was kind of embarrassing.  We weren’t about to do that when they were here.  The games in Moscow were so big that both Jeff and I at different points were on Russian National Television.  I was down in Lithuania after the games at Pavel Kogan’s summer home; he’s the principal guest conductor of the Utah Symphony and the head of Moscow State Orchestra.  As soon as I walked in and met his mother, she says, I saw you on television night before last.  She’s in Lithuania and all I was doing was giving the thank you talk at the closing ceremonies because Leavitt was there for about the first four days but he had to get back to Utah.

It was a really great experience, but we had no budget, so we had to go out and try to find sponsors, and do things by the skin of our teeth.  Moscow had opening and closing ceremonies that were almost like Cirque de Soleil they were big and they filled up all of their venues.  Our winter games opening and closing ceremonies were at the foot of the Cauldron is at the south end of Rice-Eccles Stadium, and we set up bleachers for 3,000-4,000 people, we got some cooperation from the University of Utah, and we had a sponsor, Neways, a Utah County company, and there was a guy in Provo put together a whole youth opening ceremony, and we did a great job, even though it was snowing lightly both nights.   It was a fun experience.  It didn’t have a whole lot to do with the state other than exemplifying that Salt Lake City had gotten a position on the world stage because of the Olympics.  We are still enjoying that now and I think we’ll enjoy it for a long time, because we looked ahead to build legacies and to do things that would build on the reputation that we got.

Since the Olympics we have obtained major league soccer and major league arena football.  Business development has accelerated enormously.  Our economy has been one of the strongest in the nation ever since the Olympics and so the Olympics were a great thing for us.

A fun anecdote;  Yuri and his wife loved to ski and Mike and Jackie don’t ski much, so when Moscow came over here in the winter,  Leavitt said to me, why don’t you take Yuri and his wife skiing, which we did, up to Snowbasin.  We were going to show him the Grizzly course, the downhill course for the Olympics.    As we were going up there the Highway Patrol and Bob Flowers, head of our Olympic security, knew what had happened in Moscow with us going around at 60 mph with sirens going on.  Bob Garff, Chair of our Olympic committee had given us the use of a Mercedes SUV; and Yuri and his wife were in there along with his two body guards, and my wife and I were following up in our Acura.  So we get out to the freeway and we’re going 95 mph all the way up Highway 15 and all the way up Trappers Loop we were going over 80 mph and we didn’t have police escort, it was just these Bob Flowers guys in this SUV.  Then there was a tailing car.  And every once in a while people would see us flash by about 95 mph and think, hey, those aren’t cops, let’s start going 95 mph too.  Then the guy in the tailing car would have to wave them off with his flashing light.  We start coming down on the first ski run and both Yuri and his wife Yelena like to ski really fast.  They aren’t real accomplished skiers, but they can ski fast without falling.  We were going down this first run and the body guards didn’t know how to ski worth a hoot, but they’re trying to keep up.  We stop for a little breather about halfway down and we look up just in time to see this one body guard do a helicopter crash.  His skis are flying everywhere.  Then the other guy crashes.  We had to wait about 5 minutes for them to get themselves together and get down to where we were.  Then we headed on down and we’re near the bottom and we look back and they’ve done spectacular crashes again.  Yuri says, to hell with these guys, let’s just forget my body guards, and skied the rest of the day by ourselves.

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Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service