Hughes: Volunteering in the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics created lifelong memories

Dec 8, 2023, 10:00 AM | Updated: May 30, 2024, 11:26 am

salt lake city olympics 2002 medals plaza...

FILE- The Salt Lake City skyline is lit with Olympic banners on building and the medals plaza in the foreground on Jan. 29, 2002. (Deseret News)

(Deseret News)

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom. 

SALT LAKE CITY — When the announcement came last week that Utah would be the “preferred host” of the 2034 Games, I’m sure memories from 2002 came flooding back for all who volunteered and felt the Olympic spirit.

That certainly was the case for me and I’ve often said that the opportunities 21 years ago forever changed my career and life. 

My duties happened to be paid positions as the English voice of the Medals Plaza and as a promo and billboard voice talent for NBC Sports. That then took me on a whirlwind trip around the world to the 2004 Games in Athens, the 2006 Games in Torino and the 2008 Games in Beijing.

I certainly was not alone either.

A Facebook friend, Carl Roepke, who served as the Olympic Park announcer in 2002, repeated his performance in the Turin 2006, Vancouver 2010, London 2o12, Sochi 2014 and Pyeongchang 2018 Games.

The folks responsible for creating and maintaining “The Fastest Ice on Earth” at the Utah Olympic Oval continued to share their expertise in future Olympics.

The team behind the downtown building-sized mural wraps recreated their art in future years.

These opportunities certainly helped shape and change careers. But for those who volunteered in 2002, it helped change lives and the way we both look and interact with the world.

26,000 volunteers

An estimated 26,000 Utahns volunteered in 2002 for the Winter Games.

That was a number so great and filled with so much spirit that I remember Jacques Rogge, the then president of the International Olympic Committee, saying post-Games that if there was ever a place that could be the permanent home of the Winter Olympics it was Salt Lake.

It’s easy to spot these volunteers even today with their signature blue, green or yellow coats that designated certain responsibilities for those 17 days of competition.

Whether it was simply a friendly face providing valuable knowledge of where, when or how to get somewhere or a bit more involved assignment like my buddy Mike, who helped the doping team shuttle urine samples from venues to testing sites handcuffed to his wrist, all have memories decades later.

Another friend, Chris, worked on the luge and skeleton venue and spent plenty of days during a tough snow year working early hours spray painting dark and dingy snow and ice white to enhance the appeal for the international TV audience.

Try it for yourself

I’m sure most who read this have family, friends or neighbors who have shared their stories, pins or scrapbooks of what the 2002 Olympics meant to them in their lives and last week’s announcement means that an entirely new generation of Utahns will get their chance.

I know a decade seems like a long time from now but it will be here before you know it.

So for those who have ever said “I wish I had participated” or “If it ever happens again,” chart your Olympic course today.

I promise this two-week experience of sharing and interacting with the rest of the world will provide a lifetime of stories and memories for you and your families.

Tim Hughes is the co-host of Utah’s Morning News and the host of KSL Outdoors on KSL NewsRadio. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram. 

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Hughes: Volunteering in the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics created lifelong memories