Winter Olympics Recall Memories of Salt Lake

Simon Ammann of Switzerland  soars to gold in the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.

There’s something about the Olympics that can capture the imagination of an entire nation, even the world. .

Most Americans over the age of 35 remember exactly where they were that Friday afternoon in 1980 when the United States hockey team upset the vaunted Russians at Lake Placid in the “Miracle on Ice.”

The Olympics are made of magic moments and memorable athletic feats — like Cassius Clay and Wilma Rudolph winning gold in the heat of Rome in 1960, the great French skier Jean-Claude Killy, below, schussing down the slopes of Chamrousse near Grenoble, France, in 1968, and most recently Michael Phelps, the aqua man of Beijing in the 2008 Olympics .

Who know what’s going to happen in Vancouver. Will Lindsey Vonn win gold in skiing? Will Canada¬† finally win a gold on home soil in this, its’ third Olympics? Will the favored Korean teenager Kim Yu-Na take gold in the most popular event of the Winter Olympics, women’s figure skating.

Eight years ago, the SportsLifer had the thrill of attending his first and only Olympics — the Winter Games in Salt Lake City. For four days in Utah, the Lifer was right in the center of the Olympic universe.

Utah Boondoggle

This was one of those rare NBC friend of a client deals, and the network went first class all the way for me and my buddy Matty, starting with the flight from JFK to Salt Lake City on a private commercial airliner. Once there, NBC outfitted us head to toe in winter clothing, everything from powder blue parkas with the peacock logo to leggings, hats, gloves and boots.

Each day we had the option of attending an event or staging a personal Olympics — skiing, skating or snowmobiling were among the options. We saw figure skating and short track racing, and caught the men’s long hill ski jump (that’s your big boy) on a frigid morning when Simon Ammann of Switzerland won his second gold. Ammann, who was shut out in 2006, earned the first gold medal of the Vancouver Games and his third overall

And although snowmobiling isn’t an Olympic sport, one day we went speeding up into the mountains and around a huge meadow outside of Park City, more than 12,000 feet above sea level.

On the inside track, we met gold medalists like Peggy Fleming, Katarina Witt and Kristi Yamaguchi, and 1980 US hockey goaltender Jim Craig. We saw concerts downtown in Salt Lake City, like the Bear Naked Ladies. We ate well and drank better, even in Salt Lake with its bizarre liquor laws.

It was an Olympics to remember….one in a lifetime of memorable Games.