The 2002 Winter Olympic cauldron at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.
I remember it clearly, and with great affection . . . the Opening Ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, held at Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah perched above the lights of the city.
A friend's previous misfortune led to our own good fortune a few years earlier, when we were able to attend the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. He couldn't use his track and field tickets and wondered if we were interested in buying them. We were thrilled for the opportunity.
Our summer days in the heat of an Atlanta stadium seated directly below the Olympic flame were inspiring and intense. We got to see an injured Jackie Joyner-Kersee's last competitive Olympics, and Michael Johnson's record-breaking runs for the double gold.
US runner Michael Johnson's first of two runs for the gold, the 400 meter, at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta.
When the 2002 Winter Olympics came to Utah, it seemed natural to try to get tickets. Much of my family still lived in the area and I had lived and worked in Salt Lake City many years prior, which made having the games in the Intermountain West all the more special, buttressed by a sense of hometown pride. We put in early for the ticket lottery and bought as many events as we could, including four tickets to the Opening Ceremonies which were bundled as a package with other venues.
During our several days at the Salt Lake Olympics we shuttled frequently to Park City for ski jumping and luge. In the city we had tickets to men's and women's figure skating competitions, downhill skiing and speed skating, as well as several chilly evening award ceremonies in the Olympic Plaza.
Scoreboard and ski runs at Utah Olympic Park in Park City, Utah, during the 2002 Winter Olympics. (photo: KSL)
We'd outfitted ourselves well beforehand, knowing it would be bone-chilling cold. We both had brand new ski suits from Gorsuch's and our best winter coats, gloves, mittens, Dale of Norway hats, earmuffs and boots.
There we were, on that first night in Salt Lake City at the stadium, excitedly awaiting the highlight of our Olympic experience--the 2002 Opening Ceremonies, joined by my stepson and a friend from Omaha. We'd told all our family and friends how we'd be dressed (my husband in a brown ski suit, me in a dark purple one), and exactly where we'd be sitting in the stadium, so they could look for us on camera.
Al Roker and Matt Lauer came out to warm up the crowd, when we discovered the cruel joke that we were all going to have to wear white paper gowns over our clothing "so we'd be a sea of white." (While aesthetically it might have appealed on camera, be assured it was something less appealing in person.) The little pouches left on each of our seats included, in addition to the paper drapes, a flashlight, which we had to be trained by the Roker-Lauer team to use before the big event.
Still, the anticipation of the highlight of the evening was not diminished, the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, and the official beginning of the 2002 Olympic Games.
Lighting the Olympic cauldron during the Opening Ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
It was a glorious thing to experience. Tonight, the world's attention turns to proudly, and hopefully, to London. Like so many, I will be watching it on television, but remembering the particular thrill and good fortune of being able to be a witness in Salt Lake City and Atlanta.