Darrell's Olympic Journal
On the way to pick up my paycheck, I noticed that the streets were
lined with people. I didn't think anything of it until Dave said it must be
because of the Olympic torch passing through. Due to my irregular job
schedule, I'm usually either asleep or at work, so the Olympic fervor
has been largely unnoticed by me. I realized this would probably be my
only chance to see the flame in person. Since it was due to pass just a
block away from my destination, I decided to take a quick look.
Dave wasn't into the Olympic spirit as much as I was and started
outlining a plan to extinguish the flame with a squirt gun. He also thought
it would be cool to use it to light a cigarette. Nevertheless, when I
parked the car and hurried down to the street, he followed me to catch a
We waited for about a minute before the vanguard appeared down the
road. The crowd surrounding us started cheering at the tops of their lungs.
As the entourage neared, the young woman carrying the torch came into
view. Police tried but failed to keep people from inching out into the
road. Hundreds of men, women, and children shouted excitedly at the
The fire flickering at the end of the torch had been brought here from
Greece. I felt like I should feel more excited, but I was disappointed.
It was just some anonymous person running with fire on the end of a
stick. Dave shared my lack of enthusiasm. "Wow," he said in a flat voice,
"The flame." He then turned his head and noticed a cute girl. "Wow, a
After fighting Olympic sized traffic and making a few stops, Dave and I
got to his house several hours later. I found one of his roommates
watching the opening ceremonies, so I sat down and watched them with him as
I was curious what impression Utah was going to make on the world.
While I was impressed with the pyrotechnics and puppetry, I was mainly
bored with how long it took. Dave, despite resisting, ended up really
getting into the ceremony and enjoyed it much more than I did.
- the fact that everybody I talk to, from friends and family members to
customers and strangers on the street, call the people dressed like
snowflakes "The Klan"
- the drum circle bringing together the five main Indian tribes of Utah
- the fact that the hoe down didn't last too long
- the general agreement among everybody that the flame went out on its
trip up to the cauldron and was reignited by someone behind the scenes
- realizing that sixteen F-16s were enforcing a no-fly zone above our
- realizing that the President of the United States was in the same
city as I was
- the great pride I felt for our country and our freedom upon seeing
the September 11th flag
At around six or seven in the morning when I was getting ready to go
home for some much needed sleep, a customer walked in to the store and
asked to buy a huge board. This has been a commonly requested item since
the Olympics have started. As we searched for a large enough board for
her, I found out she was planning on decorating it for her roommate to
cheer him on later that day. I asked which event he was competing in.
She told me he was going to be in the moguls. I asked who her roommate
was and she told me it was Johnny Mosley. "Johnny Mosley. Wow. The guy
from that cell phone commercial." I found out later she was a gold
medalist herself, but I never caught her name. Mosley ended up getting forth
because the judges didn't care for his dinner roll move.
As we've been having a rather slow month at work, leaving early has
become not only accepted but also encouraged. Thus, at about two in the
morning when I run out of things to do, I go ahead and leave, first
calling Patrick to see if he wants to play some video games. We get bored
after a couple hours and decide to just grab something to eat and call it
a night. The conversation turns to the Olympics at some point and Pat
suggests that I go downtown sometime to check everything out. I jokingly
suggest we go right now. Pat says now would actually be a good time to
look around since there wouldn't be any traffic. Perhaps due to sleep
deprivation, this sounds like a good idea to me.
When we get downtown, at about four in the morning, we're surprised to
see several buses are already traveling the roads. Security, which is
non-existent in our part of town, is incredible here. It's possible to
see a dozen police cars and several national guardsmen after driving
just a block.
We first loop up to the University of Utah. I'm surprised with how much
it's changed in just a couple years. The light rail system now goes up
here. There's a new pedestrian bridge which is very impressive looking.
The bus stop I used to wait at is now located inside a secure area.
"There's a sniper rifle aimed at us right now," Pat says, as we drive
close to the dorms where athletes are staying.
"There probably is," I say. "They're probably reading our lips right
now." It's a hard idea for me to get my head around. If I suddenly make a
threatening gesture, I could get shot.
The most notable part of our drive had to be the Olympic flame. Seeing
it on television is nothing compared to driving past it and
unintentionally changing lanes because you can't take your eyes off it. I wasn't
impressed with the flame before, but seeing it burning in the cauldron
high above was kind of cool.
We head back downtown and see what little we can from my car. The
skyscrapers with pictures of athletes on the sides are very cool to see up
close. At this early hour, almost everything is closed. We decide to
park at The Gateway, Utah's new outdoor mall which I haven't had the
opportunity to see yet. I'm very impressed with what I see. It's just cool
how it's a mall, but it's outside. There are stores I've never heard of
before like Abercrombie & Fitch and Express, which are apparently quite
popular in other states. I like the music sounding from all around, the
water fountain shooting out of the ground, and the statues. Of course
at this time of day, the only other people are the cleaning crew and
We leave the Gateway and walk the streets a little bit trying to find
something that's open. It's just twenty degrees and I'm wearing only a
light coat. I put my hands on my ears to warm them up. We walk past the
Olympic store whose neon sign expressly states "OPEN", but when we try
to get the guy inside to open the door, he pretends he doesn't see us.
We walk on. We walk past a temporary military base and are greeted by
one of the soldiers.
Since I've got a couple quarters clinking in my pocket, I buy a
newspaper. I grab what I think is the last one, but find out is actually two
newspapers, so Pat gets one too. It turns out the paper is for today,
Wednesday, even though it's just now creeping up on six. We wonder how
today's paper could be sold out so fast.
We end up going back to the Gateway to see if any of the stores are
open yet. Turns out Starbucks opens at 5:30, and the girl taking orders is
entirely too cheerful for this time of day. While she's making my
drink, her coworker rings me up. Since I put my newspaper down on the
counter, he charges me fifty cents for it, thus balancing out the ill-gotten
second newspaper I received earlier.
After perusing our papers for a few minutes, we go back outside into
the cold. It looks like things will take another hour or so to really get
going. I need to get a couple hours of sleep in before I go to my
second job, so we decide to leave instead of sticking around any longer.
This is where our adventure truly begins.
The parking lot at the Gateway doesn't appear very complicated when you
first enter it, but when you try to leave; you discover it is no less
intricate than the Labyrinth at Crete. The first exit we get to raises
false hopes. I think I just have to put in my ticket and I'll be free to
go. But the machine thinks my ticket has expired. I press the
assistance button and the attendant tells us this exit is closed and we should
use the exit on the second level. Sounds simple enough.
Half an hour later, Pat and I have not yet uncovered the mythical
second level exit. There is only the entrance, which is impossible to leave
through, and the exit which won't accept my ticket. We go up to the
highest level and back down to the lowest and still don't find the exit. I
ask the attendant a second time how to find the exit and he tells me to
just follow the arrows. We follow the arrows which allegedly point out
the path to the exit and wind up back where we started. Pat asks some
people just getting out of their trucks how we can get out of here.
"Just follow the arrows," they say. We try again and again find ourselves
going in circles.
"This is Hell. We've died and this parking lot is our punishment," I
announce. We both get very frustrated. We're two college graduates. We're
reasonably smart individuals. We should be able to find our way out of
a simple parking lot.
"If it was just one of us, okay. But how can both of us be lost?" Pat
We go back to the entrance and ask the attendant once more for
direction, this time in person. He tells us to follow the arrows. I start to
explain that that's what we've been doing for the past forty five
minutes, but he assures me that if we just follow the arrows, everything will
be well. So we set out once again. The arrows take us to the top level.
When we get to the top level, we find that the arrows point us in a
circle. We're about to go back down yet again when we see the parking
attendant is here. "I decided to see what was going on," he says. He
discovers that one of the arrows is pointed the wrong way. He adjusts it, and
we finally get to leave.
My brother is a member of the University of Utah's cross-country
running team. A fellow team member, Torin Koos, qualified to be in the
Olympics along with eight other U of U students. Torin's Olympic sport is the
cross-country skiing sprint. As the tickets to this event were only
twenty some dollars instead of hundreds of dollars, Brent and I decide to
go. The cross-country venue is located about an hour's drive out of
town at Soldier Hollow near Heber City. The event was scheduled for nine
a.m., and since we want to get there early to get the best view, Brent
decides the best time to leave is six o'clock. I'm scheduled to work
until 7:30, but as the workload has been incredibly light, I'm able to
duck out a couple hours early.
The traffic is surprisingly light the entire way there, however, the
radio warns us of an inversion. We follow the arrows to the park and ride
lot where we get on a bus which takes us to the actual venue. We arrive
at around eight and find all the best spots are taken. We climb up to
the top of the hill where Brent meets some of his teammates, four of
which have taken off their shirts and painted the letters K, O, O, and S
on their chests. A man with a television camera stops to film them for a
second. Another of Brent's friends shows up with an American flag tied
to the end of a long tree branch.
"Where'd you get that branch?"
"On a tree."
The anticipation is the best part. Everybody is pumped up for a Koos
gold medal. Since he lives in Salt Lake, he has home field advantage. He
knows this course better than anyone else. He's a very fast runner, and
cross-country skiing is pretty much running, so he's also got that
advantage. When Koos zips past us, everyone is chanting his name. We know
he's going to win.
He gets 32nd place. But as I'm quick to point out, being 32nd fastest
in the world is still pretty good. Brent is tired. Since Koos isn't
going to be in the semis, he wants to leave. But I convince him to stay. We
paid for the tickets, so we might as well get our money's worth.
The qualifying race was at nine. The semifinals don't start until
12:30. We have time to kill and since there is no readmittance, we don't
have that many places to kill it. Brent brought along study aides for a
test he needs to take, so he studies them while I wander about and
discover what Soldier Hollow has to offer.
There were people dressed like cowboys and pioneers. There were log
cabins and horses. The Ute tribe set up a few teepees for people to look
around in. They took turns playing drums and singing. That was cool for
awhile. My next stop was the refreshments hut. The line to get in
stretched across the road and blocked people trying to walk past. When I got
close enough to see the menu, I found out the DJs we listened to on the
ride up weren't exaggerating about the prices. Five bucks for a hotdog,
3.50 for a small hot chocolate. Somebody was leaving rich today.
There was a merchandise shop, but I didn't bother looking in it. My
sole piece of Olympic memorabilia remains a shot glass I bought between
Vegas and Salt Lake in a small town I had to hitchhike to when the oil in
my car got low, but that's another story.
I ended up being distracted by the sounds of the Bar Q Wranglers from
Jackson Hole, Wyoming. They did an a cappella version of Home on the
Range which was quite melodious, then segued into an instrumental frolic.
Two of the Olympic mascots, the bear and the rabbit, were milking the
audience. When they started square dancing with each other to a good old
country tune, I couldn't help but smile. It was the most fantastic
thing I've ever seen. The band then played one of my favorite country
tunes, Tumblin' Tumbleweeds.
All in all, the atmosphere was not dissimilar to that of a National
Park. There were park rangers trying to educate, people speaking several
different languages, and cameras a plenty. I eventually met up with
Brent and we got back to the course an hour early in hopes of finding a
better vantage point, but again, all the good spots were already taken.
With two brief exceptions, the sun remained hidden, the sky almost
entirely overcast and gray. When the sun did come out, it got hot enough that
I wanted to take off my coat, but soon enough the sun was covered and
the temperature plummeted back to the twenties. Despite not seeing much
of the sun, I did leave with a nice tan.
Once it was 12:30, we watched as 16 women and 16 men were narrowed down
to the final four. There were no Americans left, so I didn't know who
to root for, but it was still fun. Cross-country sprint made its Olympic
debut this year, and it looks like it'll be staying. Nearly every race
was a photo finish, due to the nature of the sport. Over the 1.5
kilometer course, the four athletes stay together in a pack until the final
stretch where all of them dash for the finish line. It hardly seems fair
that someone can be sent home without a medal for being less than a
tenth of a second behind someone else, but that's how it is when you're
one of the best in the world.
In the women's final, I rooted for the Russian because the girl
standing next to me was, and I was delighted when she won. I didn't root for
anyone in the men's final, but rather concentrated on getting as near
the exit as possible for a hasty trip back to the bus. On the way out,
the cowboys were lined up along the road giving high fives to passersby.
I stuck out my hand, and as I high-fived one cowboy after another, I
felt happy and ridiculous. I slept the entire ride home.
While spending part of my paycheck, I notice a Johnny Mosley video game
as well as a Salt Lake 2002 video game. Since closing ceremonies will
take place tomorrow, today is pretty much my last chance to be a part of
the Olympics. As parking is no doubt horrendous downtown, I took the
light rail. Despite the fact that each train has four cars and comes
every seven or eight minutes, each is packed to capacity. Each seat is
occupied and people that stand are pressed together in the aisles. For
seventeen days, Salt Lake gets to find out what it feels like to be a big
The ride lasts almost an hour. I get off the train at Galivan Plaza
with everyone else. I walk down the sidewalk among conversations in
several different languages. I see a large group of people waiting in line
for something and decide to join them. As I'm waiting in line, a
procession of bagpipers marches down the street.
It turns out the line is for Bud World. After passing through security,
I look around to see what there is to see. There's an ice skating rink,
but the line for that is rather long and it appears to be there mainly
for children. I also see a ski jump, but despite the crowd of people
looking on, nobody is currently jumping. After waiting several minutes
for something to happen, I move on.
There are several booths offering overpriced souvenirs and memorabilia,
as well as concession stands charging three fifty for a hot dog and
five bucks for a beer. Despite the high prices, nearly every adult seems
to be holding a Bud, and the lines to buy more are quite lengthy. I
wonder why people don't just buy the same hot dog at a nearby gas station
for fifty cents. I guess some people just like throwing away money.
Finding nothing really to do, I eventually sit down in front of the
stage where it looks like a band is about to start playing. There's a
large screen to the side of the stage showing the Olympics. I get to watch
speed skating and bobsled outside in the freezing weather for about an
hour before the band starts up, a local group called the J Johnson
Band. They're a decent band, but their sound is far too mellow for the
increasingly drunk revelers around me. The band draws only a small
After watching them for an hour, I decide I better leave now to give
myself plenty of time to get home for work. I knew the party wouldn't
really get started until later, but I couldn't stay. I exit Bud World and
head back to the light rail station. I found out the next day that Bud
World closed early, at about midnight, and several angry drinkers
started throwing bottles at police, who retaliated with stinger bullets. No
one was seriously injured. It was a small riot as riots go, but more
excitement than our city usually sees.
I ended up getting on the wrong train. The fact that almost everybody
got to sit should have tipped me off. It turned out to be a
serendipitous accident. I got to stand next to a couple women from the Finnish
hockey team. While they weren't in the mood to talk, it was cool that I got
to see a couple of the athletes up close. I soon found out this train
was going up to the U where people were headed to see the flame before
it was extinguished tomorrow.
Since I was already up here, I decided to take a look at the flame. If
that made me late for work, so be it. To see the actual flame in
person, and not just driving past it, was amazing. I can't explain the pride
and awe that filled me as I stood in the freezing cold with hundreds of
other people and gazed up at the giant cauldron. Even if not all
countries participate in the Olympics, this flame represents the entire
world. It's just fire, but it represents the passions and ideals of all
nations. It represents every person on our planet and the fire that burns
within us all.