Better than gold
Rocked by scandal and threatened by terrorism, the Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City looked like a non-starter from the start. Yet despite miles of security fences and a police presence that seemed to outnumber the athletes themselves, the show did go on. And it was a good one.
The United States nearly tripled its best showing at a Winter Games, taking home a combined 34 medals. The burgeoning medal count stimulated interest in the games, and television ratings soared for NBC, which had paid dearly for broadcast rights. Salt Lake City was a winner, too. After a bribery scandal that battered the city's image, organizers were out to prove their sleepy little town deserved its moment on the world stage. Sure enough, the buses ran on time, the snow fell on cue, and the local Mormons refrained from proselytizing their captive audience.
Still, by the time the Olympic flag was passed to the Italian city of Turin at the closing ceremonies, nationalistic squabbles had reached Cold War proportions. When a South Korean speed skater was disqualified for doping, his wired countrymen bombarded the International Olympic Committee with 16,000 e-mails-many of which contained viruses designed to crash the organization's computers. Canada went ballistic when its pairs figure skaters won only silver, despite executing a cleaner program than the gold-medal Russians. And Russia had its own laundry list of complaints: biased hockey referees, unfair drug testing of its top cross-country skier, even the fact that the Canadians won their argument and were quickly awarded a second gold medal.
As the games wound to a close, the Russian Duma voted unanimously to forbid its athletes from marching in the closing ceremonies. But in the end, the Olympic spirit won out. Leonid Tyagachev, the head of the Russian delegation in Salt Lake, defied the politicians back home and ordered his athletes to don their parade uniforms: "After what happened on Sept. 11-everyone knows what happened-we got closer to each other, and [boycotting] would not be the right thing to do."