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Features Friday, 8 February, 2002, 11:00 GMT
American spirit to light up Games
Preparations go on for the opening ceremony
Preparations go on for the opening ceremony
By BBC Sport Online's Alex Gubbay in Salt Lake City

It wouldn't be a sporting event in the United States if there weren't shouts of 'U-S-A' every time any athlete so much as enters an arena.

But the patriotic fervour following the home favourites at these Games in Salt Lake City may well reach unprecedented levels.

Since 11 September, the American public have looked to the Olympics as their first real chance to show the world they are winning the war on terrorism.

And the potential for that pent-up passion to boil over remains very real.

US Olympic officials and athletes recognise have to strike the right balance at the opening ceremony and beyond, but still use words like 'psyched' and 'pumped' when they look ahead.

Amy Peterson will be the flag bearer
Amy Peterson will be the flag bearer
They insist there was no dispute with Olympic organisers over their desire to incorporate the tattered American flag from Ground Zero at the Rice-Eccles Stadium on Friday night, just a difference over the best way of doing so.

"Perhaps the IOC, USOC and SLOC didn't start on the same page," admits USOC chief executive officer, Lloyd Ward.

"But there was never a question about the intent, just about how we would do it."

Organising committee president Mitt Romney insists the international perspective will not be lost.

"This is not the Super Bowl or the World Series which are American events. This is America hosting a world event."

"I feel we are going to have Games that are both patriotic and welcoming."

The American athletes are well aware of the role they will play over the next 17 days, and no-one more so than Amy Peterson, the short-track speed skater and team flagbearer.

"I can only imagine what my emotions are going to be like when I walk into the stadium.

It will be emotional for Shea
It will be emotional for Shea
"It will be my fifth and final Games - but with this honour, they are already the best and they haven't even begun yet."

It will also be an emotional moment for Jim Shea Jr., the skeleton athlete and third-generation Olympian who will recite the athletes' oath.

His father, Jim Sr., was a Nordic combined and cross country skier for the US at the 1964 Olympics, and his speed skating grandfather, Jack, won two golds at Lake Placid in 1932.

Sadly, the 91-year-old, who had tickets to watch his grandson in Salt Lake City, was killed in a car crash in January.

"It is tremendous, not only because my fellow athletes voted for me, but because I will be reciting the same words my grandfather once said," Shea reveals.

"All the Olympians in my family have always told me about the opening ceremonies and how it changes your life."

Let's hope the reaction from the American public, officials and athletes properly reflects the events last September that changed so many lives for ever.

 OUR MAN IN UTAH
BBC Sport Online's Alex Gubbay

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