Ten years later, speedskater Derek Parra can still remember every detail of his gold-medal-winning performance at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.
The way he so perfectly skated through turn after turn at the Utah Olympic Oval. The way he saw his family and friends from throughout his life cheering from the stands. The way the scoreboard lit up with his world-record time.
Who were the stars of 2002?
"Ten years is a long time, but it seems like yesterday," he says. "It absolutely seems like yesterday. And when I go and talk to schools and organizations and foundations and I talk about the Games, I still cry. I still get emotional. My heart still races when I show them the video of me skating. I know I’m going to win — I’m on the DVD! — but I find myself shifting my weight in my shoes and it’s just exciting. It was a huge moment in my life."
At that, Parra smiles and shakes his head.
"Ten years," he says, snapping his fingers. "It went by like that."
Thousands of athletes, coaches, fans and volunteers who made the 2002 Olympics a raging success in Salt Lake City must feel the same way, awakening to the reality that it has been a decade since all of those amazing memories were made, at all of the places we all still enjoy so much — Snowbasin, Solider Hollow, Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Utah Olympic Park … just to name a few.
"It’s kind of mind-boggling," said Sarah Hughes, whose surprise gold medal in figure skating ranked among the highlights of the Olympics.
From scandal to success
But, boy, what memories.
Not only did the world watch a shattered nation come together and begin to heal through sport just five months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but it witnessed some truly astounding athletic performances on the slopes, chutes and ice sheets — as well as plenty of scandalous behavior.
And when it was over, Salt Lake City had proved it was capable of holding what IOC President Jacques Rogge called a "superb" Olympics, and laid a foundation for years of success to come.
Inspired future Olympians were sprouting all over the country, knowing they had world-class training facilities available in Utah — a big part of the reason the United States won more medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games in Canada than any nation in Winter Olympic history.
"There’s not one facility that was built for the Olympics that has not continued to be utilized, often on a year-round basis," former Park City mayor Brad Olch said. "The sports park with the jumps and swimming pool, and Soldier Hollow, where skiers train in the summer. The problem with the speedskating oval? We could use an oval and a half."
All because of 2002.
The Olympics here always will be remembered, of course, for the bid scandal that preceded them and the judging scandal in figure skating that interrupted them and dominated headlines for days.
But also, they always will be the Olympics where Norway’s Ole Einar Bjørndalen won all four gold medals in the biathlon, and Croatia’s Janica Kostelic took three golds and a silver in Alpine skiing. Finland’s Samppa Lajunen swept the three gold medals in Nordic combined, too, while Team Canada memorably exorcised its national demons by winning gold in men’s and women’s ice hockey.
How about those Americans?
Spurred by a $40 million initiative to dominate the medal count, the United States enjoyed by far its most successful Winter Olympics to that point, winning a record 34 medals — 10 of them gold — to signal a turning point in its preparedness for the Games and provide future organizers a winning model for hometown success.
"These were the no-excuses Games," said Jim Page, the USOC’s managing director for sports at the time.Next Page >
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