Utah (ABC4) – The 2002 Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City, Utah exactly 19 years ago. The world’s best athletes traveled from all around the globe to Salt Lake City for “The Greatest Snow on Earth.” 

The Games started on February 8 and ran through February 24. According to the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics webpage, 2,399 athletes from 77 countries participated in 78 events. 

The 2002 Olympics brought on many firsts. The games marked the first time the women’s bobsleigh was part of the program with the two-person event. They also brought the first time Olympic medal for Estonia and Croatia in Olympic Winter Games history, according to the webpage.

Additionally, Olympic judges used new technology with the introduction of instant video replay in figure skating.

The 2002 Olympic Games made significant impacts on Salt Lake City and the state of Utah. According to the Salt Lake City International Airport, nineteen years ago, when the city was welcoming the world for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, SLC became the first airport in the country to screen checked bags for explosives. 

The 2002 Olympic games happened mere months the 9-11 tragedy, and despite the security challenges, the airport created a festive atmosphere for passengers with hot chocolate brigades, jugglers, and entertainers. 

Courtesy: Salt Lake City International Airport

The Olympic oval used in the Games was almost in the sky, the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics share. The oval, located southwest of Salt Lake City in Kearns, is 1,425 feet above sea level, making it the highest covered oval in the world.

During the Winter Games, two gold medals were awarded in pairs figure skating rather than a gold and a silver. The International Olympic Committee, IOC, Executive Board decided to award Jamie Salé and David Pelletier from Canada a gold medal in the figure skating pairs competition in Salt Lake City. 

Officials say following a meeting with IOC President, with the International Skating Union, ISU, President Ottavio Cinquanta called an ISU Council meeting following the figure skating, men’s free skate competition. The ISU Council decided to suspend Judge Marie Reine Le Gougne for misconduct and to recommend to the IOC Executive Board that it also award a gold medal to Jamie Salé and David Pelletier. The board agreed and awarded them the gold medal, according to the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics.

In 2002, Norway won the most gold medals, while Germany won the most number of medals. 

According to Utah.com, the Salt Lake Olympic Committee’s volunteer program had three phases with approximately 8,000 volunteers for pre-game activities. There were 18,000 core volunteers for the Olympic Winter Games, and 6,000 volunteers for the Paralympic Winter Games.

Shawn Stinson, Director of Communications and Media for Visit Salt Lake, says the opportunity Salt Lake City and the state had to host the 2002 Winter Games, “truly introduced Salt Lake and Utah to the world, whereas it had only previously been known as home of the Utah Jazz and the LDS Church.

The Games put Utah in rare company. Very few cities have hosted the Olympics, and Salt Lake City will always be known as an Olympic City, again, not something many cities can claim,” Stinson shares with ABC4. 

Stinson says the publicity Salt Lake City garnered was immeasurable, “something no amount of marketing/promotional dollars could ever achieve.” 

SALT LAKE CITY, UNITED STATES: Brian Leetch (R) of the USA and Canada’s Scott Niedermayer (R) grapple during the Men’s Gold Medal Ice Hockey match 24 February 2002 at the XIX Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. AFP PHOTO/Jeff HAYNES (Photo credit should read JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images)

The 2002 Olympics introduced not only Utah’s capital city and its surrounding Wasatch Mountains, but to the entire state, highlighting the incredible diversity of snow-capped peaked, stunning red rock canyons, arid desert, and everything in between, Stinson shares.  “The notoriety of hosting an Olympics states a city or destination has “arrived,” or “made it,” and that definitely is the case for SLC. A number of people noted that it was akin to Thanksgiving dinner and getting to move from the kids’ table to the adult table, or in a grocery store when an item moves from the bottom shelf to an eye-level shelf,” Stinson adds. 

In late 2018, the United States Olympic Committee, USOC, selected Salt Lake City as a candidate for future Winter Games.

“Utah is one step closer to hosting the Olympic Winter Games again,” Utah’s former governor Gary Herbert shared. 

The USOC did not say for which future Winter Games it would put forth a bid, though the next open bid will be for the 2030 or 2034 Games.

Stinson says Uthans felt a sense of pride after Utah’s successful hosting of the Games.

“We crushed all volunteer records and will do it again when we get the Olympics back.” 

The 2002 Olympics left a legacy of sports few places can claim.

“We are now home to a number of national teams with the best facilities and coaching imaginable,” Stinson shares with ABC4. “It truly is an amazing legacy, and I’m proud our state embraced that concept of keeping the flame alive well past Feb. 24, 2002.” 

When asked if he feels Utah would be ready and willing to host the Games again in the coming years Stinson says “Absolutely!” 

Utah has a majority of the competition facilities in place and has invested in keeping them up to Olympic standards.

“We continue to host world cup and World Championship events. A huge hurdle for many bidding cities is the cost of the needed facilities and infrastructure – we already have them,” Stinson says.

Utah has a new Airport, competition venues, and all transportation requirements, and other needed accommodations. 

Utah’s volunteer enthusiasm has not slowed one bit, and I understand the enthusiasm to host another Winter Olympics remains equally strong. In all honesty, Salt Lake City is the obvious choice to host a future Olympics when it’s time for them to return to North America – there simply is no other city better equipped or ready. We’re the USOC’s choice for a future U.S. bid, and we have a proven track record of hosting successful events, including the 2002 Winter Games both from a competition standpoint as well as a monetary one; few host cities can claim to have made a profit, something we can,” Stinson shares. 

He says hosting yet another Winter Olympics would place Salt Lake City and the state of Utah in rarified company.

“I have no doubt we will once again welcome the world and host yet another successful Olympics,” Stinson adds.