In short order, the eyes of the world will turn to Salt Lake City for the spectacle of the 19th Winter Olympic Games. For 17 frenetic days skiers will defy gravity, speed traps, and the limits of heart and lung; figure skaters will prance and Salchow; skeleton racers will ignore common sense; athletes will cry on podiums and in locker rooms; and TV viewers will be subjected to inhumane doses of advertising and arcania ("That's right, Milt. Speed skaters' blades are up to six inches longer than figure skaters'!").
It is a dazzling show. But like any grand event, it can be bewildering. Truly understanding - and so enjoying and appreciating - the Winter Olympics requires both a grasp of the esoteric (How does it feel to fulfill a dream?) and the practical (Where do Park City locals go for breakfast?). Read on for both.
Friday, February 8, to Sunday, February 24
Participating countries: 72
Athletes: More than 2,300
TV viewers: 3.5 billion
Seats for opening and closing ceremonies: 52,000
Medal events at the first Winter Olympics in 1924 in Chamonix, France: 14
Medal events in Salt Lake City: 78
Number of times Salt Lake City bid on the Winter Games, and lost: Five (SLC lost out in 1972, 1976, 1992, 1994, 1998 - a record)
NEW IN 2002
Ten new events will debut in Salt Lake - men's and women's skeleton (sort of a no-holds-barred high-speed sled), men's and women's biathlon pursuit races (a cross-country ski sprint of five ski loops and four shooting stages), cross-country skiing sprint races for men and women, a 1,500-meter short track speed skating race for men and women, women's bobsled, and a sprint category in the nordic combined men's competition.