(ABC4) – For fans of local nostalgia and the Olympics, this week is a big one.
On Wednesday, athletes coming in curling and luge will begin the first competition of the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, China. The Games will open in their traditionally ceremonious manner on Friday and run through Feb. 20. The occasion will undoubtedly be sentimental for Utahns, as the Games will also mark 20 years since the Olympic fire burned brightly in Salt Lake.
A lot has changed in the last two decades, especially in Utah. While Olympic spirit is in vogue and since a noteworthy anniversary of one of the biggest events to ever stake its tent in the state in approaching, ABC4.com thought it would be interesting to look back on a some iconic memories from the 2002 Games, namely the venues and souvenirs that remain – or not – 20 years later.
The center for some of the biggest and most important games of the men’s and women’s ice hockey tournaments, the Maverik Center (back then it was known as ‘The E Center’) still has some relics of its time on the Olympic stage.
Some pieces of Olympic signage still stand in the parking lot and most of the arena, which was opened in 1997, has remained unchanged since 2002. However, one of the coolest and best homages from the Games isn’t easily seen or visible to the public.
In the bowels of the arena, on the walls of a room now being used for storage, are autographs from the Canadian men’s hockey team, which they signed after celebrating their gold medal win over the United States.
Kept behind plexiglass, one autograph by a Canadian hockey player left a bit of misspelled trash-talking after the victory.
“U.S.A. WOT WOZ THE SCORE?”
It was 5-2, by the way.
Before hosting the 2002 Games, the longtime home of the Utah football program underwent a major renovation to put it up to Olympic standards to host the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as to house the Olympic cauldron. That renovation almost entirely redid the stadium and added the press and luxury suites on the west side.
Recently, the stadium had another facelift to complete the ring of seating around the field, forcing the facility to move the Olympic cauldron from its place behind the scoreboard on the south side to a display just outside the gates on the southwest corner.
Another relic of the Games, the iconic Hoberman Arch, which was the defining symbol of the medal-award ceremony once also had a place at the stadium after the Olympics, but it has since been removed and all indications show that it’s pretty much entirely disappeared or been forgotten by Salt Lake City officials.
Utah Olympic Oval
Built specifically for the Games, the Utah Olympic Oval has continued to be one of the preeminent speedskating venues in the world and serves as the training base for the U.S. team year-round. Because of the elevation in the area, it is considered to be the “Fastest Ice on Earth,” as the thin air creates less resistance for the skaters and put less oxygen into the ice itself, making it harder and denser and therefore ideal for speedskating.
Inside the 400-meter oval, the facility, which is not unlike a giant airplane hanger with unobstructed views around the rink, holds two hockey rinks and also is surrounded by a running track.
Because it’s been maintained by the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation since the Games came and went, the Oval is still in excellent condition and ready for use should the Olympics return to Salt Lake.
And if you want to give skating a try, it’s a great place to go for a public skate.
Every once in a while, at a ski resort or just out and about on the town, you can spot someone donning one of the most iconic local keepsakes from the Olympics, an official volunteer fleece vest or jacket. Styled in bright orange, yellow, or purple colors with a large-scale Olympic snowflake and rings on the back, the apparel was worn by volunteers on the job and in the years after the Games, still pop up every now and then or were tucked away as a unique and fun souvenir of an unforgettable winter in Utah.
The volunteers were credited with having a large role in the success of the Games in Salt Lake, with reportedly more than 70,000 locals applying for just over 20,000 positions available. While they weren’t paid for their time and service to help run a relatively smooth Olympic experience, at least they got some cool swag.
Team USA Berets
One of the hottest souvenir items during the 2002 Games was the official Team USA beret hat, made by Canadian outfitter, Roots, and worn by the American delegation during the opening ceremony. The hat was hugely popular with fans, retailing for $19.95, with the line of folks looking to grab one at the Roots boutique in Park City going out the door and down the street. At one point, it was a big-ticket item for scalpers looking to cash in on the trend, but nowadays you can get one on eBay for 10 bucks or so.
Green Jello Pins
One of the most popular activities surrounding the Salt Lake Games was the collecting and trading of collectible pins. As has been an Olympic tradition since the 1980s, pin collecting in the official trading area in the Olympic Plaza – something that Coca-Cola got on board to sponsor – was a can’t-miss attraction in downtown Salt Lake City.
There were all sorts of quirky, officially licensed pins to celebrate the Games, the nations involved, and Utah’s culture, but the most memorable one may have been the pin celebrating the state’s unofficial dessert of choice, Green Jello. Recently, one of those pins, still in its original packaging from 20 years ago, sold on eBay for $99.95.
What else do you remember from the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake? Let us know in the Facebook comments below!