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Park City • Banker and philanthropist Spence Eccles bubbled with boyish enthusiasm Wednesday as he watched a young kid as much skis and helmet as body take off from a beginner's jump, soar skyward, then plop into the newly expanded Utah Olympic Park freestyle pool.
"That's what it's all about," said the beaming 81-year old, quickly calculating that in the Winter Olympic year of 2030, when Eccles thinks Salt Lake City may have a legitimate shot at hosting the Games again, that kid could be a member of the U.S. Olympic team.
"We have kids as young as six now training here," Eccles added. "Through our program, they'll have that opportunity to be on the Olympic team. … We're maintaining what came out of the magic of 2002."
Making it better, actually.
Led by a $1 million donation from the Eccles family, the facility-owning Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation and the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association have taken advantage of a mild winter to upgrade the pool and jumps in just eight months with only one month of down time for elite-athlete training.
The results will be available for all to see Saturday evening with a celebration marking the grand opening of what now will be called the Spence Eccles Olympic Freestyle Pool.
During a program beginning at 7:30 p.m., Olympic-caliber athletes from the Flying Ace All-Stars will perform acrobatic moves from the seven jumps that flank the mountainous side of the pool.
Replacing four wooden jumps that had become rickety through 22 years of exposure to sun and moisture, the spiffy new jumps also have different approaches and lift-off angles that meet the needs of the varied sports disciplines now on the Winter Olympic agenda from moguls skiing to big-air freestyle to slopestyle.
There's even a curvable free-ride jump that lets skiers "come at an angle and do their flips and aerial maneuvers over 70-foot distances across the pool," said Colin Hilton, president and CEO of the Olympic Legacy Foundation. "It's quite spectacular to watch."
Elite American and foreign athletes are expected to come in even greater numbers to train on this array of jumps, he noted, fulfilling Utah's commitment to the Olympic movement to be around long-term for the propagation of winter sports.
This is the third summer of Utah training for 21-year-old Australian Olympian Brodie Summers.
"It's really, really good," he said upon emerging from the pool after a flight off the jump for moguls, his specialty.
"You already had an amazing facility here, and this is another step ahead," Summers added, hoping the extra work on the moguls-specific jump will enable him to improve on a 13th-place finish at the 2014 Sochi Games.
"It's steeper in the end run, so the transition is faster as it sends you up," he said. "As a moguls skier, that's what you need to get good at."
What pleases Hilton just as much as this elite-level participation, however, is knowing that Utah youngsters have been lining up day in and day out for years now to jump into the pool.
"Not too many facilities can say we have a capacity problem where we need to expand the pool and the number of ramps," Hilton said. "We're quite pleased we have so much volume and activity that we need to do that."
He said a fundraising event associated with the grand opening is likely to push the foundation over the top in covering the $3 million cost of the project.
"We're on a constant fund drive because it takes a lot of money to run the Olympic-legacy venues," Eccles interjected. He should know. His family foundations gave millions of dollars to Utah's 2002 Olympic effort as well as to many other endeavors around the state and he was an early activist in the state's drive to host the Games.
Seeing what he saw Wednesday at the Olympic Park validated all of those investments and efforts, Eccles said, showing that "we're fulfilling our responsibility to the state, to the taxpayers who lent $59 million to our effort without knowing if we'd get the Games, and to the youth in the state. And it will leave us in place to bid for another Olympics."
He will be especially pleased with the unveiling Saturday of a sign reflecting the contributions of the whole Eccles family to this project, knowing that "when I'm gone, my family will still come up here and be part of it."
When asked what his late wife and soulmate Cleone would have thought of this facility, Eccles paused before reflecting "she'd be thrilled and she'd share fully in knowing this is the right thing for the family to be doing at this time."