It began with a spark. From February 8 to 24, 2002, the Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games ignited the passion of 2,399 athletes representing 77 delegations, 22,000 volunteers and more than 2 billion people watching from around the world, with one simple spark among the olive groves of Greece.
After more than 12,000 torchbearers carried the Olympic Flame 13,500 miles around the United States, the 19th Olympic Winter Games officially opened with solemnity — athletes carrying a flag rescued from the September 11, 2011 attacks — and celebration, as Utah’s five nations joined together for the first time in history, and LeAnn Rimes led a children’s choir of 600.
Across the Wasatch Mountains, 78 events, from Jim Shea’s gold-medal skeleton trip down the track at Utah Olympic Park to a dazzling performance by 17-year-old Sarah Hughes at the Salt Lake Ice Center. Tributes honored Olympian efforts on an unprecedented scale: illuminated Olympic Rings the size of 10 football fields; skyscrapers wrapped in athlete images; banners and billboards everywhere reminding us just how special the Olympic Spirit is. At the end of each magical day, free concerts and medal presentations at Olympic Medals Plaza opened the Games experience to everyone.
The Salt Lake 2002 theme of Light the Fire Within belonged to each of us, whether we were a small girl waving a flag in a stadium, or a Bode Miller revolutionizing the sport of alpine skiing with one recovery from a near-reckless run.
Athletes won gold, silver and bronze medals, and the extraordinary Ceremonies won Emmy Awards. But Salt Lake 2002 also won the hearts of a country coping with uncertain times, and united a world fractured by the events of 9/11. We had 17 days to allow the spark to catch, and now, long after the Olympic Flame flickered out, the fire within lives on in Salt Lake City and beyond.