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Having the awards separated from the events takes something away

Posted: Wednesday, February 20, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY -- This city doesn't carry the reputation of a party town.

It's one of the transformation stories of the 2002 Winter Olympics. Salt Lake City at night is rocking.

Olympic Medals Plaza, usually a large parking lot for the Mormon church in the heart of downtown, is the gathering place, both day and night.

By day, it a fun place for families.

Corporate sponsors have set up tents and booths throughout the area. You have a midway-like fan zone similar to what you see at most major sporting events.

At Hallmark, you can send a free Olympic card to anyone you choose.

Coca-Cola has devoted most of its large tent to pins and pin-trading. There are rows of tables set up just for bartering. And the lines to purchase pins are enormous.

Then, at one end of medals plaza, which normally has lines out the door, is a fun center.

A person can try to shoot a hockey puck through three tiny wooden openings in a mock goal. Score and you win and prize.

Visitors can pair up and try to push a bobsleigh on a short ice ramp, a mock start. The best time in a group wins another prize.

You can experience luge. There's a short, one-turn luge run. Experts claim it's an authentic experience.

There's a replica of an Olympic medals platform, where one can have his picture taken in front of a cutout crowd, displaying gold, silver and bronze. Or a person can seem be watching from a front-row seat at figure skating (actually behind a cardboard cutout of a figure skater).

On Valentine's Day, about 100 couples renewed their wedding vows in a courtyard.

By night, the medals plaza turns into a giant concert venue, primarily for the young.

Entertainers like the Goo, Goo Dolls, Brooks and Dunn, Barenaked Ladies and Sheryl Crow have already performed.

Each night, officials hand out most of the day's medals, the crowd cheers, the anthems are played, the stage rotates, the entertainers appear and it's get-down time.

Fireworks cap the evening.

It's a festive atmosphere but with one problem.

Although it's a good show to award the medals at a central location for prime-time TV, it takes away something from the fans of each event -- particularly at the mountain venues.

Say, you take your family for a day of freestyle skiing. You spend a couple of hours getting to the event and through security. You watch and cheer wildly for your favorites.

Say, the Americans win gold and you go crazy. But you don't get to hear the anthem played or the flag raised. That's for the party crowd downtown later that night.

It's like having a meal without dessert.

And the most devoted fans of various skiing and snow events at mountain venues -- of all countries -- are staying in cities near their event.

Thus, because of the nightly show in Salt lake, the real fans of many sports are deprived of a medal ceremony.

Although the setup is fun, Olympic organizers have robbed some zealous Peters to satisfy a few fun-loving Pauls.

(David McCollum, sports columnist for the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway, Ark., is part of the Morris News Service team covering the Winter Olympics).



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