Published: February 23, 2012
This week is the 10-year anniversary of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
It was the last time the Olympic Games have been held the United States.
In my opinion, it was one of the best Olympics ever held for many different reasons.
But, they almost never happened.
Before the games ever happened, they were shrouded with controversy.
First, there was a bribery scandal with some members of the International Olympic Committee.
Then, after Sept. 11, 2001, there were questions if the Olympics should take place in Salt Lake City.
They went ahead as scheduled, and became a great event.
By the end of the games, the Americans enjoyed their best success ever in the Winter Olympics with a total of 34 medals. Of course, the record was broken at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada.
Like in all Olympics, new stars were created, while older ones got one last moment in the spotlight.
Some of the American medalists broke color barriers, which included the first ever African-American and Mexican- American Winter Olympic gold medalists, women’s bobsledder Vonetta Flowers and long-track speed skater Derek Parra.
Speaking of speed skating, 2002 was the birth of a new star, Apolo Anton Ohno. The short-track speedster won his first gold medal thanks to a bump by his South Korean opponent during the race that got him disqualified from the event.
There were several other American moments during those games, including a sweep of the medals in the men’s snowboarding half-pipe event. By the way, it did not include future star Shaun White because he barely missed the team that year.
Also, female figure skater Sarah Hughes went from being overlooked to becoming another member of the historical list of great American gold medal skaters.
You have seen the sport luge, in which riders lay on its back on a sled.
In 2002, skeleton made its reappearance to the games for the first time since 1948. The sport is different from its cousin, in which the athlete lays on the sled on his or her stomach.
That year, the Americans won both the men’s and women’s events.
Tristan Gale and Lea Ann Parsley were one-two in the women’s event.
Jim Shea Jr. won the men’s event, all while honoring his grandfather Jack, who had recently died, with a picture of him inside his helmet during the competition. Jack was a gold medalist in speed skating during the 1932 Games in New York. His father, Jim Shea Sr., competed at the 1964 Olympic Games in Nordic skiing, as well.
A few months later, Shea Jr. visited the MTSU campus and brought along his gold medal.
I never thought I would get the chance to meet an Olympian and touch an actual gold medal. It was one of the greatest sporting moments in my life.
He told his life story on how he got into the sport, and all of the challenges he had to deal with, including how he dealt with a learning disability when he was younger.
Because of those Olympics, I began to donate a small amount of money to the U.S. Olympic Committee.
It is the best $20 I have ever spent. Plus, I got a lot of free stuff from them. I hope that it’s not a long time, before we see the Olympic games back in the United States.
The 2002 games will go down as one of the best ever, and it helped bring America together when we needed it most.
David Hunter can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.