Friday will mark 10 years since the Salt Lake Winter Olympics ended — a full decade since the Salt Lake Valley literally was awash in jaw-dropping fireworks from a display that rivaled any the world had seen. It will mark the anniversary of a turning point in the history of the Wasatch Front.
The anniversary of the Games has not gone unnoticed. Ceremonies have been held, the cauldron has been relit; even Mitt Romney came back for a brief visit. Gov. Gary Herbert marked the moment by convening a new committee to study whether to begin the process of bidding to once again host the Olympics. But the more subtle changes that took place here a decade ago may not be the most noticeable.
A metro area cannot go through 17 days of intense scrutiny, of drama and pathos, of athlete after athlete shedding tears and saying how thankful they are to be here, without changing. The Wasatch Front, and to a large extent the entire state, submitted itself to a microscope and came across looking pretty good. The 250,000 or so visitors here scrutinized everything, even one of those dreaded inversions that parked itself over the valley for a few days, and came away with good feelings.
Sure, there were some snide remarks, some complaints and some jokes at the state's expense. Some critics can't be placated at any cost. But the lasting images and the feelings of friendship and joy in international competition and good will are what dominated among those who came. Not every metropolitan area could pull the kind of party the Wasatch Front threw and receive so many raves.
The subtle result of all this was a community's matured sense of self. Many in the state had wondered whether Olympic organizers could pull it off; whether the venues could be built and maintained without taxpayer debt; whether security could be tight enough to avoid terrorist attacks and still allow for fun; whether the host city could overcome its staid image; and even whether enough snow would fall. When it all came together, when the closing ceremonies had ended, the Wasatch Front became a member of a small group of cities worldwide that had experienced such a thing. Its residents obtained a collective sense of confidence.
The numbers have been reported widely in recent days. A decade ago, 2.1 billion viewers around the world watched the Games, getting glimpses of Utah's beautiful mountains and friendly people. In the 10 years since the closing ceremonies, the legacy of the Games has added an estimated $1 billion to the local economy; 62 world cup events have been hosted here, as well as seven world championships; and three national governing bodies have moved to Utah. It would be impossible to get a firm handle on the businesses that have moved here, the conventions that have come and the tourists who decided to visit because of the legitimacy the games provided.
The Salt Lake Olympics was a success by any measure. It left a legacy that continues to give. In a perfect world, the International Olympic Committee would vote to make the most of such a spectacular venue by staging the Games here again and again. But Utah has done the next best thing by continuing to maintain and use the venues built 10 years ago. But the sense of confidence from pulling off such a grand event may be the biggest legacy of the 2002 Games.