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Features Tuesday, 5 February, 2002, 11:17 GMT
Safe in Mitt's hands
Salt Lake City supremo Mitt Romney meets Muhammad Ali
Romney (right) hopes the Games will prove a knockout
Organising committee chairman Mitt Romney tells BBC Sport Online's Alex Gubbay that three years of high anxiety are coming to a head.

"We've walked the walk, now we'll see if we can talk the talk."

That is the message from Mitt Romney, head of the Salt Lake City Organising Committee, as Friday's opening ceremony draws ever closer.

The former Boston businessman will have been in charge of Utah's Olympic destiny for three years by the time the Games get under way.

And he knows some anxious days still lie ahead.

"The truth is, I worry all the time, although I pretend that I don't," he admits.

"I think of things I could have done better, and mistakes we may have made.

Armed soldiers check vehicles in Salt Lake City
Romney: No apologies for troops on the street
"But I go home and tell my wife Ann - she then ends up having a hard time going to sleep, and I sleep like a baby."

It sounds like she may be in for a few more anxious nights yet, because security and transportation remain real concerns.

But Romney makes no apology for the visible armed presence on the streets.

"I think Olympic spectators will be like me in wanting to see safe and secure venues.

"I, for one, do not think security is about cosmetics - it is about safety."

That may be so, but it took fans at the Super Bowl in New Orleans over an hour to pass through stringent checks as they entered the stadium on Sunday night.

Slashed prices

Not necessarily the best way to foster the festive Winter Olympic spirit.

"Actually, few people complained at the Super Bowl," he insists. "From our standpoint, we have to be honest and say we don't know exactly how long it's going to take to get in.

"Hopefully, after a couple of days, we'll be able to make more precise time estimates."

I have heard that when it's over, people in my position almost feel depressed. So I'm expecting to miss the thrill of the challenge

SLOC chairman
Mitt Romney
Romney himself is refreshingly honest, and reveals that Games organisers had to slash ticket prices by 75% (and offer a free snack and video for the journey) to fill the extra spectator buses laid on to ease expected congestion.

He has pinpointed Friday, when qualifying takes place in the ski jumping at the Utah Olympic Park, as the day to put his best-laid transportation plans to the test.

"We'll have 14,000 people travelling up interstate I-80 to watch that event, so we'll count the numbers in each car.


"If the count is 2.6 or better, we're OK. If it's less, we've got a problem."

I wonder which lucky SLOC workers will land that plum job?

Indeed, all this talk of security and transportation concerns makes you wonder why anyone would ever take on the job of organising an Olympics in the first place.

Gridlock strikes the Winter Olympic city
Traffic jams are Romney's main potential headache
"There is so much to learn if you have not organised a Games before, and that is a little daunting," Romney explains.

"You have to create a sponsorship programme, set up a budget, build an information technology system, and assemble a highly-skilled team who all know they will lose the job when the torch is passed on.

"But I have heard that when it's over, people in my position almost feel depressed. So I'm expecting to miss the thrill of the challenge."

In the meantime, Mitt, try to enjoy the sport over the next three weeks if you can. That's what three years as Salt Lake City supremo was ultimately all about.

Mitt Romney
"Preparations are coming along well"
BBC Sport Online's Alex Gubbay

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17 Jan 02 | BBC Coverage
BBC Sport Online at the Olympics
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