POSTED: September 9th 2011

9/11: Attacks changed 2002 Winter Olympics for athletes, organizers

Salt Lake City prepares for the 2002 winter Games / Deseret News image
Salt Lake City prepares for the 2002 winter Games / Deseret News image

MARC GIAUQUE / Reprinted on permission from

SALT LAKE CITY: The attacks that stunned the world on September 11, 2001 also stunned organizers and athletes of the 2002 Olympics.

Already following the Olympic scandal, the terrorist attacks could have threatened to derail the games once again.

On that sunny Tuesday morning, Olympic President Mitt Romney was in Washington D.C to lobby for Security funding. Others were in New York City, making preparations to announce the route for the Torch Relay.

They all witnessed the aftermath. Former Olympic COO Fraser Bullock remembers a call from Romney not long after the Pentagon was attacked.

"He had just driven past the Pentagon. Smoke filled his car and then we talked about how in less than five months we were going to host the world," he said.

Later Romney spoke with KSL.

In Florida that morning, Speed Skater Derek Parra, was visiting family. The attack changed everything.

"I almost quit skating. Here we were, months out from the games, but I felt almost ashamed that I was putting so much focus and value on going around in circles when people were pulling their loved ones out of the rubble."

But after meeting with team-mates back in Salt Lake City, he re-focused.

"That day, I think I went home and said, 'you know what? If I do this, it can't be about me,'" Parra said.

Organizers also re-focused. They sought to re-assure teams, sponsors and the public. Millions more were poured into security, and on February 8, President Bush opened the games.

"On behalf of a proud, determined, and grateful nation, I declare open the Games of Salt Lake City," he said.

"I recall very vividly being in the opening ceremonies watching, like the rest of the world, and incomes the flag from the Twin Towers," Bullock said.

Parra was one of eight athletes who carried in the tattered flag.

"What we thought there would be this huge out roar from the 35,000 whatever was in that stadium, it was silent. And it made the moment even more poignant."

He calls the experience one of the most emotional of his life.

"We were holding the flag at the end of the national anthem and a gust of wind came through and it was pulling the flag out of our hands," Parra said. "And, I look around, we were all crying. We all looked at each other and we were all crying. To me, it was the spirits, the spirits of the victims there."

Parra is convinced that moment impacted the rest of the games. Overall, Americans won 34 medals in the games.

Keywords · Salt Lake City 2002 · September 11 · Marc Giauque

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