In Salt Lake City, they’re promising fun and Games, not a Mormon conquest

KEN MACQUEEN February 11 2002


In Salt Lake City, they’re promising fun and Games, not a Mormon conquest

KEN MACQUEEN February 11 2002


In Salt Lake City, they’re promising fun and Games, not a Mormon conquest



They eat Jell-O in the great state of Utah. Jell-O by the truck load. By the rail car. Green Jell-O, primarily. Sometimes they jazz it up by adding marshmallows or grated carrots. It's a Mormon thing, as essential to a pot-luck supper as scalloped “funeral potatoes.”

In Salt Lake City, they’re promising fun and Games, not a Mormon conquest


BY KEN MACQUEEN in Salt Lake City

They eat Jell-O in the great state of Utah. Jell-O by the truck load. By the rail car. Green Jell-O, primarily. Sometimes they jazz it up by adding marshmallows or grated carrots. Ifs a Mormon thing, as essential to a pot-luck supper as scalloped “funeral potatoes.” Since 70 per cent of Utahns are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of LatterDay Saints, as Mormons are properly known, that accounts for more Jell-O consumption per capita than any state in the union, an achievement that inspires an inexplicable degree of pride. Firstedition Jell-O Olympic collector pins, for instance, now sell for US$125.

The jiggly stuff is but one indicator of the wholesome image that blesses, or afflicts, Utah, depending on one’s point of view. There is also a ferocious appetite for ice cream in Utah. “Don’t Walk” lights at intersections are treated as Holy Writ. Cuss words, with the exceptions of oh my heck and f-word substitutes like fetchin’ and frickin’, are as rare as discarded cigarette butts. The state’s public indecency law is so sweeping it could be used, as The Salt Lake Tribune noted in December, “to prosecute exhibits of Michelangelo’s classic nude David sculpture or even displays of bare-breasted women in National Geographic magazine.”

Salt Lake City is world headquarters for the 11-million-member LDS Church, as it is known here. Its adherents founded the city in 1847, and brought Utah into the union in 1896, after dropping, as a condition of statehood, its enthusiastic embrace of polygamy. Its members, in the main, do not indulge in sex outside of marriage. Nor do they gamble, smoke, chew, drink alcohol or such caffeinated beverages as coffee or tea. Even the consumption of Coca-Cola, a major Olympic sponsor, is frowned upon, though it is generally conceded to be a lesser evil.

Utahns are painfully aware that they have, in fact, two reputations to live down: one, that they’re a stateful of sour prudes; two, that they sold their souls to

the devil to win the Olympics. It was, after all, the city’s now disbanded and discredited bid committee that precipitated a massive bribery scandal by showering the most malleable members of the International Olympic Committee with a reported US$7 million in “gifts,” from scholarships to travel to medical care and fancy guns. The whole sorry mess smeared the city with the tabloid taint usually reserved for fallen TV evangelists. The result was an unprecedented house-cleaning and self examination. Salt Lake awaits the world’s verdict, as ready as any host city can be, eager to please and fetchingly self-conscious.

“They’ll talk about how wholesome we are and point out the irony of our role in the biggest scandal in Olympic history,” said the Mormon-owned Deseret News, the state’s second-largest newspaper. “They’ll walk over to Crossroad Plaza and buy that old standby, the ‘Eat, Drink and Be Merry For Tomorrow You May Be in Utah’ shot glass. At some point they’ll mention Donny Osmond. We’ll emerge as caricatures of ourselves.” Utah’s pervasive Mormon influence caused fears from the get-go that the Salt Lake City Olympics would be different. You know, sober. That the church would be The Official Wet Blanket of the 2002 Winter Games.

It’s a mantra that these Games belong to all Utah. They are not the Mormon Games, or the Mo-lympics. This point is made repeatedly by the senior hierarchy of the church, and reinforced by Utah Governor Mike Leavitt, and organizing committee president and CEO Mitt Romney. If people are skeptical, it is only because both Leavitt and Romney are also Mormon, as is every state Supreme Court justice, and 90 per cent of the legislature. The local NBC-TV affiliate broadcasting the Games is Mormon-owned. Then, there’s the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, where four of five commissioners are teetotaling church members.

Still, Romney, a moneyed Boston investment banker with a demeanour smooth as Zambonied ice, has struck a skilful balance. He was hired three years ago to get beyond the scandal, and he’s largely succeeded. “We’ve rebuilt our image,” he says. “This wasn’t a scandal of athletes. It was a scandal of guys in shirts and ties.” Sensitive to fears of church domination, Romney flirted with heresy by serving champagne and orange juice at a news conference. Eyebrows were raised, but the point was made. These Olympics


are different, but not dull.

God is everywhere in Utah, but the devil, as they say, is in the detail.

The Games:

It behooves everyone to remember that these Olympics are not just a scandal-tainted, massively televised, heavily sponsored international gathering of potential targets of terrorism. They are, above all, sporting events, in this regard, Salt Lake City has its preparations down cold.

These will be the largest Winter Games in history, with about 2,400 athletes from 80 nations competing in an unprecedented 78 events. The Calgary Olympics, which set a benchmark in 1988, featured 1,634 athletes from 57 nations in 46 events. The setting—a tidy, architecturally inspired city, ringed by snow-crusted mountains—seems indeed blessed by a power far higher than the International Olympic Committee. Then there are the world-class venues, all within a handy hour of each other, and tied together with gloriously wide, undulating ribbons of asphalt.

Add 26,000 local volunteers and you’ve got an impressive package. And why not? An investigation by Sports Illustrated magazine concludes that Utah has extracted US$1.5 billion in federal handouts for facilities, transportation and other improvements. That’s a subsidy of US$625,000 for each athlete competing—1V2 times the combined federal support provided the seven previous Olympic Games held in the U.S. since 1904.

Leaving little to chance, organizers also head-hunted experience, poaching some of the Canadian talent that made the Calgary Olympics a solid success. Canadian Olympian Cathy Priestner Allinger, as managing director of sport for the organizing committee, is responsible for most everything that affects the athletes, from the running of the events and the operation of the facilities, to such thankless tasks as administering weather forecasting and the anti-doping program. Priestner Allinger, who won a silver medal for Canada in speed skating in 1976 at Innsbruck, Austria, operated the Calgary

Olympic Oval before being lured to Salt Lake in 1997. The Canadian content at these Games, and the strong contingent of Canadian speed skaters, is proof Calgary’s “legacy lives on,” she says.

As for claims that the church is running the show, she shrugs. She is the first woman to ever hold this senior job in an Olympics. She is neither American nor Mormon. Her home fridge is stocked with Canadian beer. The world will see Utah is full of “pretty normal people,” she says from her 15th-floor Olympic headquarters office. “I don’t think we’re going to be labeled the Mormon Games at all.”

Craig Lehto, director of the Utah Olympic Park—site of bobsled, luge, skeleton and ski jumping competitions—is another transplanted Olympic veteran. He left a similar job in Calgary for the chance to experience the rush of another Olympic Games. “I think Calgary matured an awful lot in 1988—the culture, even the restaurant food is much different than it was,” he says. “I think the the Games kind of spurred on that cultural development, and I very much get the sense the same thing can happen here.”

Responsibility for hockey, one of the highest-profile sports in the Games, rests with Dan Moro, former manager of Hockey Canada’s Centre of Excellence at the Olympic Saddledome in Calgary.

Near the top of Salt Lake’s Olympic heap is Alberta-born and raised Fraser

Bullock, chief operating officer for the organizing committee, and secondin-command to Romney. When Romney was hired in February, 1999, Bullock, a former business associate, was his “first choice” to pare costs and get the game’s projected budget back in the black. Although Bullock forged his career in the U.S., he retains dual CanadianAmerican citizenship. Both he and Romney are graduates of Utah’s church-run Brigham Young University, where even colas are banned from vending machines. He, too, is Mormon.

The Church:

Elder Sheldon Child greets a visitor with the kind of warm handshake and electric smile that must have moved plenty of furniture in the days when he was president of a successful Utah company. That was years before a call from the leadership of the LDS Church set him on another course. Today Child is president of the church’s eastern operations in North America, and assistant executive director of the missionary department, which has a 61,000-strong army of cleancut young Mormons spreading the word around the globe. “We’re a proselytizing church,” he says. And an uncommonly successful one. In the 171 years since the church was founded by Joseph Smith in upstate New York, membership has surpassed 11 million in 160 nations and territories, making it the fastest growing religion in America and possibly the world.

Now in February, like a heaven-sent gift, the world comes to Salt Lake, and billions more will watch the spectacle on TV. The Latter-Day Saints are front and centre. The church was officially “neutral” during the chequered bid for the Games. “Once they were awarded, we want to do everything we can do to make them successful,” says Child. “There’s going to be a lot of people coming in, and it’s a great opportunity for the church.”

The Mormon hierarchy issued a call to its membership to volunteer, and made land and resources available to Games organizers. This includes a huge church-


Utah is unique for a variety of reasons, among them laws pertaining to alcohol and firearms. Some examples:

Things you can do in Utah with a gun:

■ State law allows American adults without felony records or convictions for domestic abuse to have a concealed weapons permit.

■ Utah’s 41,000-plus licence holders can carry their loaded, concealed weapons in cars, bars, shopping centres, schools, churches, buses, trains, terminals and most other public places.

■ Even without that permit, guns that are “capable of being concealed” can be carried at home and at the owner’s place of business.

■ Concealed weapons are banned in secure areas of airports, Olympic venues, federal buildings, jails and mental health facilities, or when the carrier is intoxicated.

■ A state legal opinion has thrown into question a

owned downtown parking lot where Olympic medals will be presented, against a backdrop of the imposing granite spires of the Salt Lake Temple.

The church established a downtown media centre—making a leap of faith that reporters can function in a caffeineand alcohol-free environment. Its crack public affairs team has assembled “100 Great Story Ideas” for visiting media. [Sample: “Alcohol in Utah: What’s Different.”] The famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra will headline a nightly multimedia show in the church’s jaw-dropping 21,000-seat downtown conference centre.

Equally famous is the church’s Family History Library, the worlds largest collection of genealogical resources, another point of contact to lead outsiders to explore the Mormon faith. The library’s Web site alone generates as many as 13 million hits

law that bans guns in state workplaces, home daycare operations, the campus and dormitories at the University of Utah.

Things you can’t do with booze:

■ Drink under the age of 21.

■ Purchase “heavy beer” (over 3.2 per cent alcohol) in restaurants after midnight, or from corner stores.

■ Expect your restaurant server to produce a wine list. You must request it.

■ Drink without eating. Except in taverns, or in “private clubs” where temporary guest memberships cost about US$5 for a two-week period.

■ Order doubles. Limit is one ounce of alcohol per mixed drink, although “secondary alcoholic flavorings” are allowed in exotic mixed drinks.

■ Have two drinks delivered at once to one individual. Server must set down one drink, then perform some other duty, such as shifting an ashtray, before setting down the other drink.

a day, and David Rencher, director of the libraries division, cheerfully predicts that the Olympics will test its multilingual research staff to the maximum. In return, Rencher hopes the church can impart one of the church’s main tenets: “We’re all part of the eternal family of God. We’re all family.” The church’s focus on family life and healthy living is probably the most accessible part of a theology based on a belief that Jesus appeared in the Americas after the crucifixion as part of a divine plan to establish His church. Selling that message will be a low-key affair during the Games, says Child. Its members will not proselytize at Olympic venues, but its missionaries, as always, are available at Temple Square, the Mormon equivalent of the Vatican.

While these are not the church’s Olympics, he stresses, he’s not squeamish

about the Mormon Games label. “I just cannot understand why anyone would object to that,” he says, his face lit with a smile. “But they do.”

The Threat:

In the dark days after Sept. 11, Mary Mabey, 42, a registered nurse by training, a mother of six by vocation, came to the chilling realization that the Olympics she was anticipating with excitement may also be a threat to her family and community. Like most residents of Salt Lake City, however, it has not deterred her. She and her husband, Brent, 45, a doctor specializing in emergency medicine, are Olympic volunteers. Brent is a medical officer for figure skating and short-track speed skating, and Mary is an administrative assistant.

While devout Mormons, they would have participated without the church’s call. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event,” says Brent. Risk of a terrorist attack is relatively small and doesn’t justify cancelling the Games, he says. Mary agrees, with reservations. “I feel like there’s a lot of effort being made to make it safe, so I guess I’m not too worried.”

In fact, security at these Games is unprecedented. It was already designed to a high standard after the bombing at the Atlanta Summer Games in 1996, and was cranked even tighter after Sept. 11. Then, just last week, the Justice Department ordered last-minute upgrades to security measures at non-venue sites around the city. Athletes will be far outnumbered by the thousands of soldiers, national guard troops, and the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command, an umbrella organization of every relevant agency from the Secret Service and FBI, to state and local levels.

Unlike past Olympics, visitors will notice this security, passing through weapons detectors and searches at every event. And this security will see them. Surveillance cameras—some capable of reading an ID tag at 1,000 m—are deployed at all venues. The air will be monitored. Biometric scanners will compare facial features against a data base of criminals and terrorists, and security staff are equipped with optical readers to instantly run fingerprints. Air space will be closed over key locations and patrolled by fighter jets.

Cancelling the Games wasn’t an option, says Priestner Allinger. “This is an opportunity for us to promote world peace and not be controlled by the terrorists,” she says. “I think we’ve been able to assure the



From the beginning, Olympic organizers considered security at the Winter Games of paramount importance. But after Sept. 11, Salt Lake City-host to the world’s most-watched sporting event with an estimated audience of 3.2 billion-is looking like an even bigger target. From 80 nations will come 2,345 athletes (Canada is sending 156). Organizers are expecting 70,000 visitors every day, not counting 12,000 members of the media. Yet Tom Ridge, U.S. director of homeland security, boasts Salt Lake will be “one of the safest places in the world.” Here’s a by-the-numbers look at the Games' security preparations:

20 number of state and federal agencies that comprise the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command.

10,000 total number of security personnel responsible for crisis management and intelligence gathering. Includes FBI agents, Secret Service and Treasury Board agents, Army National Guardsmen, emergency personnel, and local and state law enforcement officials.

3 height in metres of chain-link fences that will surround most venues. Secret Service agents will patrol some locales on skis or snowmobiles.

72 kilometres radius over the region that has been designated a no-fly zone. Salt Lake City International Airport will be closed to commercial traffic at various times, including the opening and closing ceremonies at Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah.

2,400 km/h top speed of F-16 Fighting Falcons from Hill Air Force Base, 25 km north of Salt Lake City, if called to intercept suspicious aircraft. AWACS surveillance planes will also be monitoring the airspace.

260 Sensormatic surveillance cameraswhich can magnify an image up to 184 times, rotate 360 degrees and see clearly at nightlocated around Salt Lake City.

440 walk-through metal detectors and 600 hand-held metal detectors will be positioned at venues.

15,000 Cipro pills (an anti-anthrax drug) available to Team Canada.

$37 million federal security costs for 1980 Lake Placid Olympics; $155 million for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics (and summer Games are much larger than winter).

$430 million original Salt Lake budget for security.

$500 million post-Sept. ll security budget. The federal government is covering $390 million, and the state of Utah is paying the rest.

Michael Snider

community that this is probably the safest place to be during that period.”

The Party:

Every second Tuesday, Jannette Knowley, co-owner of Salt Lakes Port O’ Call Social Club, holds an Olympic strategy meeting with senior staff. Today she has an attorney on the line offering legal advice on dealing with the disagreeable guest. It’s not that she anticipates trouble, she just doesn’t know what to expect. Except a whole lot of people. The club, the largest downtown, is in the midst of an expansion to boost capacity to 1,250 people. Already it sprawls over three floors, part dance hall, part neighbourhood local, part sports bar. As dens of iniquity go, it’s a pretty friendly place.

Under state law, the Port is a membersonly club. This assures that the uninitiated don’t innocendy wander into an environment where they could be waylaid by tequila, Canadian beer or other strong drink. Joining a private club is about as difficult as pulling a $5 bill from your jeans for a temporary two-week membership. As quirky as state liquor laws are, the Port’s status as a private club gives Knowley rights she much appreciates. She can demand, for instance, that customers leave their concealed weapons in their cars, even though in Utah it’s considered a God-given constitutional right to pack heat. The bar has metal detectors, but she’s thinking of upgrading to more sensitive security wands, in the spirit of the times.

Alcohol laws have engendered heated debate, and prompted a local brewery to poke back at the Mormon majority by creating Polygamy Porter. (Motto: Why have just one!) In reality, only the blinddrunk will fail to find a drink at most any Olympic event—with the merciful exception of performances of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. What organizers and state officials hope to achieve, after tortuous negotiations, is both a festive atmosphere and a gentle reminder that the Olympic ideals of Faster, Higher, Stronger do not apply to alcohol consumption.

The Risk:

Utah faces a danger far less abstract than terrorism: the pressure to loosen up and become more like the other 49 states, because, gosh, what will the world think? Mormons—much practiced in shunning conformity—aren’t disposed to give in. While there are rewards to staging these Olympics, there is also risk in dismantling

Utah’s foundations in reaction to what Elder Child quietly notes is “a 17-day event.”

There is much worth saving. Utah has the lowest rate of cancer deaths in the U.S., second-lowest death rate from heart disease, third-highest life expectancy, fourthhighest rate of high-school graduates, and, though not independently verified, more men wearing crisp white shirts and tasteful ties than any place in the universe.

It really is “a great place to raise children,” says Priestner Allinger. Her middle daughter graduated from high school here. Her 12-year-old son is settled and happy. She and her husband, a biomechanist doing research at a local hospital, are staying put. She’s accepted a job after the Games as CEO of the legacy fund that will operate the Olympic facilities.

As for the hand-wringing over old scandals and minor liquor laws, those remind Craig Lehto of a dozen years ago in Calgary. It is the act of a good host nervously sweeping a critical eye over the house before the guests arrive. But it’s a good home, he says. With two young children born since he and his wife arrived, the Lehtos, too, are staying after the Games.

Utah is a better-armed Canada. Maybe not the Canada of today, but the Canada that got lost along the way. The one that also had, and has, some funny liquor laws. Remember Ladies and Escorts lounges? The Canada where Sunday wasn’t another working day.

On the streets of metropolitan Salt Lake City, which exceeds one million people, strangers greet one another. The buildings are free of graffiti. If you drop your wallet, odds are you’ll get it back. And, oh my heck, what’s so bad about cusses as watery as the local beer?

Yes there are homeless, despite church and municipal assistance programs, but without the oppressive numbers and menace and despair that mark street life in Toronto or Vancouver or Winnipeg. John, bearded and congenial, panhandles almost in the shadow of the headquarters tower of the LDS Church. When nature calls, he leaves behind his cushion and a cardboard sign: “Back in 8 minutes.” Should you wish to wait.

John, who keeps his surname private, is considering his Olympic options. He may head west across the state line to Las Vegas, for the warmth and the relative peace. Or he may stay for the party. “One thing about the Mormons,” he says, “they do things right.” E3