Deer Valley • Early in his 27-year career with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team, Tom Kelly recalls times when he went to a Winter Olympics with a team that had five or six candidates to earn medals.
Later this year, he'll take 49 legitimate medal hopefuls to Hollywood for interviews that NBC will broadcast during February's Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Utah deserves a lot of credit for increasing the country's stable of elite athletes, said Kelly, the USSA's vice president of communications, on Thursday at Ski Utah's annual media day. Ski Utah is the marketing arm of the state's 14 resorts.
"What's here today [for the U.S.] in competitive sports is because of what happened here in Utah," he said, not just during the highly successful 2002 Winter Games but in the years that preceded it.
Kelly credited former Ski Team leader Howard Peterson, now overseer of the Soldier Hollow cross country skiing facility in Midway, with persuading the U.S. Olympic Committee in the late 1980s to award its Winter Games bid to a community willing to build training facilities that would be used to develop American athletes for years.
Utah was and did. Its subsequent Olympic organizers also recognized the value of leaving a legacy from hosting the Games, Kelly said, then ran the 2002 Olympics with such efficiency that a surplus was left to help sustain those expensive venues, which are still used extensively today.
"No other Olympic host city gets so much out of its venues," he observed, referring to the Utah Olympic Park's complex of ski jumps, bobsled/luge track and freestyle aerial pools, Soldier Hollow, the speedskating oval in Kearns and the temporary competition venues sculpted annually at the three Park City-area resorts for skiing, snowboarding and freestyle events.
"Utahns deserve real credit for investing in those facilities. You can see the spinoff in the team we'll be taking to Sochi," Kelly added. "A lot of [the athletes] got their start because they got motivated seeing things here."
Sochi will be a "very different Olympics," he said, noting the southern Russian city does not have "a culture of winter sports, not even of sport, nor is there a spirit of tourism. But they have an enormous amount of money … and the venues are very good. The competition this past season, in some of the worst weather, came off well."
Kelly has high expectations in Sochi for Sarah Hendrickson, a Park City teen who Kelly feels exemplifies the rewards of Utah having set out to be a winter sports capital.
As a 7-year-old, she became enchanted with ski jumping while watching her older brother train at Utah Olympic Park. She joined the program, learned to fly and last month at age 18 was crowned world champion in women's ski jumping.
"She had that opportunity," Kelly said, "because of where she lived."