February marks 15 years since Salt Lake City played host to the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, though to those who helped make the Games a success, it hardly feels like it has been that long.
Former Salt Lake Organizing Committee members, employees, volunteers and dignitaries will descend on Salt Lake City this weekend for public and private gatherings to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Olympics. For several Tooele County residents, including Daniel Pacheco and Rick Pollock, this weekend will serve as a reminder of a life-changing experience.
“It’s amazing how fast time has gone. It certainly doesn’t feel like 15 years, that’s for sure,” said Pollock, who served as retail services coordinator in the Olympic and Paralympic Village. “I worked with some of the best people I’ve ever worked with in my life. We were a family. The people I worked with, we were just a family trying to get our jobs done and put the best Olympic Village together we could. It was an incredible experience.”
Tooele County’s big moment came Feb. 6, 2002, when the Olympic torch was greeted by an estimated crowd of more than 20,000 as it was carried down Main Street in Tooele City. Grantsville native and 2000 Summer Olympian Amy Palmer was one of the torchbearers, while Brett Bevan lit the cauldron at the end of the parade.
But for people like Pollock and Pacheco, their involvement in the Games started years before that. Salt Lake City was announced as the host city for the 2002 Olympics back in 1994, and there was a lot of preparation that went into making the Games go on without a hitch.
Pacheco began working full-time for SLOC in either late 1996 or early 1997 after serving as an intern as a student at Westminster College and taking part in various roles with the torch relay for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. He helped spread the spirit of the Olympics statewide, as his work with the community department helped bring event simulations into every junior high school in Utah. Through the sales of Olympic license plates, event tickets were made available to schoolchildren throughout the state.
“Over four years, we facilitated more than 300,000 Utah kids attending test and training events,” said Pacheco, who was the coordinator for the education department for SLOC and also helped coordinate the statewide student art exhibits.
Those test events proved invaluable to helping the Games go smoothly. A crowd of students helped organizers determine whether the ice at the Olympic Oval in Kearns could withstand the body heat from bleachers filled with spectators. Hundreds of school buses surrounding what is now Vivint Smart Home Arena during a figure skating event before the Games led to the banning of private buses from the area surrounding the arena.
Once the Games began, they went off largely problem-free. They also served to help heal the wounds of a country still in mourning a mere five months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Pacheco said.
“I think it really brought our community together in a lot of ways,” he said. “It brought an economic impact, but also after 9/11, it helped bring a lot of the country back together.”
Pollock was among the SLOC employees who attended the Opening Ceremonies on Feb. 8 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.
“I was lucky enough to be given tickets to the Opening Ceremonies,” he said. “I got to go to the Opening Ceremonies and got to see the flag that flew over the World Trade Center. It was a pretty neat experience –– an experience I’ll never have again.”
Pollock has a lot of memories from his time working for SLOC, and is looking forward to reuniting with his coworkers from 15 years ago –– though keeping in touch with them isn’t as hard, thanks to social media. He still has quite a bit of memorabilia from the 2002 Games, and hopes to see them return to Salt Lake City someday.
‘The day I got the job, my wife went and bought all of the stuffed animal Olympic mascots and gave them to me,” he said. ‘I still have them in my office. The SLOC employees were able to nominate someone to run the torch, and a select number of them were chosen. I nominated my mom to run the torch, and my little 62-year-old mom got to run the torch in Colorado. It was totally a life-changing experience. I hope we get it again. It was totally great.”
This weekend’s events surround the FIS Nordic Junior World Championships and FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup at Soldier Hollow and Deer Valley. Former SLOC chief operating officers Mitt Romney and Fraser Bullock will make appearances at public events during the weekend. The Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation is also hosting former SLOC employees during a private event with Romney and Bullock on Feb. 3 in Park City.
Pacheco is looking forward to the opportunity to reminisce about his experience working for SLOC.
“I really caught the spirit of the Games and the spirit of what was behind the Games, and that’s why I stayed involved,” he said. “I really believe it impacted my life in a global sense of truly getting to understand the world we live in –– the different cultures, the different people and the different celebrations.”
For more information on this weekend’s 15th anniversary events, visit utaholympiclegacy.org/2002legacycelebration.