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The Winter Olympics in Sochi open in 169 days. It's not too early for the anticipation to begin, despite the fact that today's high will be in the 90s and wildflowers, not snow, blanket our mountains.

Utahns have good grounds to be particularly interested in these Winter Games. Perhaps the best reason — Park City skiing phenom Ted Ligety — is profiled on Sunday's front page. As Michael C. Lewis points out in his fine piece, Ligety's World Cup performance last season matched that of French icon Jean-Claude Killy in 1968, winning championships in three events. The possibility of a repeat in Sochi is the stuff of great stories.

As the countdown to Sochi continues, our goal is to be out front in bringing readers the news about the Games, and Ligety is certain to make some. There will be others. Sarah Hendrickson, a Salt Lake City native, will be part of history as women ski jumpers are included in an Olympics for the first time. (Finally!) At age 19, she has 13 World Cup career victories, and won the world ski-jumping championship last season. Hence, she's the favorite in Sochi.

Obviously, the Winter Games hold a special place in the hearts of Utahns. February of 2002 gave us 17 days that we'll never forget as downtown Salt Lake City was packed with people from throughout the world, conversing in a rainbow of languages and wearing their national colors.

That intense interest stuck with us. Since 2000, Utahns have led the nation by huge margins in the percentages of television viewers watching the Olympics, both summer and winter. And our Games remain the high benchmark for viewership across the country, with an average of 32.8 million viewers a night. The London Summer Games, by comparison, averaged 32.2 million.

For many Salt Lake Tribune journalists, covering the 2002 Games remains a career high point. Almost our entire staff was involved, working nearly three weeks straight, 12- to 14-hour days. And loving every second. To prepare, and to develop expertise in the events, reporters and photographers spent previous months covering World Cup competitions around the globe.

When the final firework exploded over the closing ceremony in Rice-Eccles Stadium, we gathered in the newsroom for champagne, and then to Lewis' house where those younger than me carried on until dawn.

In 2002, Lewis' big stories included Apolo Ohno and the figure-skating judge scandal. Sochi will be his seventh Olympics. He's no longer a full-time reporter for us, after moving with his young family to Colorado Springs, Colo., which coincidentally is home to the U.S. Olympic team. But he continues as our lead Olympic writer, and will be heavily involved not only in covering the Games themselves, but in the lead-up World Cup competitions. Many of those events will take place at Utah's 2002 venues, providing more fuel to the fire of Sochi anticipation.

Lewis will be joined by our veteran sports columnist, Kurt Kragthorpe, covering his fifth Olympics. (An irony: Kragthorpe didn't cover our games, as he was charged with keeping our readers abreast of what was happening in the rest of the sports world. In retrospect, not the best use of him.) Photographer Chris Detrick, a veteran of the Beijing Games, rounds out the Sochi team.

Covering the Olympics requires planning months, even years, in advance. Sports Editor Joe Baird and Managing Editor Lisa Carricaburu have obtained credentials, purchased plane tickets and have a story list that they will refine in coming months. Lewis' coverage of Ligety and Hendrickson's triumphs last season was, in a way, the start of our coverage.

It's August, and the only thing resembling fresh powder on the 2002 downhill course at Snowbasin are wild daisies and yarrow. Nonetheless, our thoughts are turning to February in the Caucasus Mountains.

Terry Orme is a Tribune managing editor. Reach him at

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