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Salt Lake Is Leaning Toward 2002 Games

Winter Olympics: Romney says his budget will take some cuts, but they won't affect field of play.


SYDNEY, Australia — Next Tuesday will be 500 days to the Salt Lake City Winter Games, but the man entrusted with the success of that venture admitted here today that some of his city's emotional wounds remain over hosting this event.

"I don't think we'll be all the way back until the day we light the torch," said Mitt Romney, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.

Romney, a successful businessman and son of former Michigan governor and presidential candidate George Romney, took over a sinking Salt Lake City Olympic ship in February 1999. He inherited the leadership of an organizing committee that had been internationally scandalized by allegations it used bribes and influence-peddling of International Olympic Committee members to get the bid for the 2002 Games. One of his predecessors, Tom Welch, is currently under federal indictment for fraud and other charges.

"When I first got on the job, it was worse than I thought," Romney said, during a luncheon meeting with a small group of American sports editors. "I had that deer-in-the-headlights feeling."

Romney said his city has been on a psychological roller coaster that is still subject to some dips and turns, especially with recent reports that the Welch trial might be going on around the time of the Olympics in February of 2002.

"When we got the bid, there was euphoria," said Romney, who at that time was busy making millions as the CEO of a takeover company, Bain Capital, Inc. "Remember the video? A whole city celebrating. Then came the bid scandal, and nobody could have felt lower. It was like a collective kick in the gut. I felt nauseated. Thank God it was guys like me in suits making those mistakes and not athletes.

"Since then, we have made reforms. We have new people, new policies, we will open our documents to anybody who wants to see. And now, I think we have rebuilt some of the confidence and Salt Lake feels as if it has committed to doing this and it will follow through."

Romney said that a recent cut in his operating budget, from $1.5 billion to $1.319 billion, would not affect what he called the "field of play," meaning the structure it takes to make sure the sports are contested at the highest level of opportunity. He cited, as an example of cuts he had to make that will not impact Olympic performance, $12 million in Olympic decorations.

"Sydney is putting on a great Games, and at a size that we cannot, or do not, want to match," he said. "One thing they did here was put up 11,600 decorative banners. We can't do that, but that won't hurt anybody's Olympic performance."

The most recent Winter Games, at Nagano, Japan, in 1998, operated with a $2.5-billion budget. At least that is the best estimate--no exact number is ever going to be available because Nagano organizers, with interesting timing, burned their books as the Salt Lake/IOC scandal heated up.

Romney said that the main Salt Lake Olympic building will cost $30 million--Nagano's cost was $300 million. He said that all the venues will be "first class, world class," but added that he expected some criticism from figure skating fans, because the site of that event, the Delta Center in downtown Salt Lake, doesn't have all good sight lines.

He said that Salt Lake would have its own version of Atlanta's Olympic Centennial Park. It will be an area in downtown, donated by the Mormon Church, that will accommodate 40,000 people and will be the site of nightly medal ceremonies.

He said that the size of recent Olympics, the so-called "gigantism" issue, won't be a problem in Salt lake.

"I'd like to say that, because of my great vision, I've taken care of that," he said. "But the truth is, with my budget cut, I can't afford anything bigger than this."

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