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Features Monday, 4 February, 2002, 11:14 GMT
Mayor makes Games pledge
Workers carry out last-minute preparations at a building in Salt Lake City
Last-minute preparations at a building in Salt Lake City
BBC Sport Online's Alex Gubbay talks to Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson about the challenge of hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The Salt Lake City Winter Olympics are almost upon us, and the eyes of the world are trained on the capital of Utah as never before.

After the bribery scandal surrounding its bid, and the tragic events of September 11, the yearning for the Games to go well is all too understandable.

But the feeling here seems to transcend the normal mixture of excitement and apprehension you would expect in any host city ahead of a major world event.

It's as if there is more at stake this time, for Salt Lake City and America as a whole.

And the city's Mayor, Rocky Anderson, knows it.

Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson
Anderson is positive ahead of the Games

Talk of anxiety and 'pre-party nerves' is everywhere, and as one local newspaper columnist puts it: "Ready or not, our show of a lifetime is about to begin, and we don't want to blow it."

The slogan of the Games is 'light the fire within'. But in the wake of the attacks on New York and Washington, Anderson's message to the watching world is instead "strength through diversity".

And he wants his city to shake off its detractors and unfavourable stereotypes by demonstrating that spirit in Salt Lake.

"Anyone who talks about this as a boring place can't have been here," he told BBC Sport Online.

"We have a very rich and diverse culture and this community is very welcoming and excited about hosting these Games. We intend to show everyone an absolutely great time."

Alongside that, the priority remains to make the Games as safe as possible. Security has weighed heavily on Anderson's mind as well as that of the organising committee in recent months.

The notion that it's hard to get a drink here is a huge misrepresentation

Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson

"As Mayor, I don't want any surprises or any stone unturned.

"But I'm pleased at the commitment that has been made, especially by our federal government, since the events of September 11.

"There has been a constructive and unprecedented collaboration between federal and state law enforcement agencies.

"When even the Mayor knows Secret Service and FBI people by name, and you have dealt with the same people for months, you are much better prepared to tackle anything that does crop up."

As if tackling the terrorist threat and unfortunate stereotypes weren't enough, Salt Lake City also has the challenge of following the spectacle that was the 2000 summer Olympics. Anderson though is not fazed.

"I don't think it's a matter of living up to Sydney. I left there with such a warm, fond feeling, not particularly because of the events themselves, but because the Australians were so hospitable.

Liquor laws

"I hope that when people leave here, they will feel the same and say: 'We definitely have to come back.'"

I haven't been in town long enough to feel confident about arguing the point - but getting Anderson's word that finding a drink should not prove a problem helps put my mind at rest.

"The notion that it's hard to get a drink here is a huge misrepresentation.

"Yes, we do have odd 'liquor laws' and we do have some private club membership requirements, but I promise you they are very easy to comply with."

That's good enough for me - at least for the time being.

And while for many reasons, Salt Lake City is undeniably under pressure to put on a good show, if their Mayor's sincere and positive approach is anything to go by, there is no need to be on the defensive.

BBC Sport Online's Alex Gubbay

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17 Jan 02 | BBC Coverage
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