Sunday, February 10, 2002
About 3,000 fans miss part of downhill due to delay
SNOWBASIN, Utah -- Seven years of planning apparently weren't enough.
On a peaceful, sunny Sunday morning, 3,000 angry and frustrated fans, holding $300,000 worth of tickets, got stuck in buses inching along choked roads and couldn't get to their seats in time for the 10 a.m. start of the downhill.
Trips that were supposed to take little more than an hour from Salt Lake City to Snowbasin took three hours. Parking lots that were supposed to handle all the buses, vans and private cars were filled early.
By 10:45 a.m., when all the top racers had already finished and the event was all but over, there were still more than 1,000 empty seats in stands that hold 15,500.
Fans kept trickling in, but many had to settle for long-distance views of the runs down Grizzly as they watched from the windows of their buses.
The only reward for latecomers was a ninth-place finish by American Marco Sullivan. If they wanted to see Austria's Fritz Strobl win the gold, or see why American Daron Rahlves didn't, they had to wait for the tape-delayed showing on television later in the day.
Mitt Romney, head of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, blamed the congestion on one bus that didn't have a proper sticker.
"It won't happen again," Romney vowed. "I was in the traffic, myself. Law enforcement stopped a bus that wasn't accredited. When I got there, I made the decision to let the bus go. Who cares if he's got accreditation or not? They were doing their job as instructed, but we'll have to correct things like this as we go along.
"Twenty thousand people got there on time and had a great time, and 3,000 didn't. We'll have to do better for everyone."
Blaine Fetter and his family and friends were among those shut out of the big races. Fetter, who has homes in nearby Park City and in Los Angeles, knows the roads in the area and thought he knew what to expect. What he confronted was far worse than he ever imagined.
"I was very angry this morning. There are four of us and we paid $400 for tickets and got nothing," he said, while waiting in line for something to drink (the food tent had quickly run out of food.)
"I've been so excited about the Olympics coming. We bought $30,000 worth of tickets for friends and family, and so far I've been disappointed by everything except the opening ceremony," he said. "It's impossible to get to the events. The food service is terrible. It seems like they didn't plan this very well. It's a simple mathematical calculation. They could have figured this out."
Fetter and his friends had plans to go to a hockey game in Provo later in the afternoon, but were thinking about bagging that idea. The same with the bobsled they planned to see Monday.
"I'm going skiing," Fetter said. "I'm not going through this again."
Joe and Jane Ward of Huntington Beach, Calif., had their own tale of woe. They left at 6:30 a.m. to take their three kids to Soldier Hollow to see cross-country skiing, then tried to get to Snowbasin for the downhill. But a drive that should have taken two hours took more than four.
"There were no buses to Soldier Hollow, no way for the kids to get there," Ward said.
The Wards got caught in traffic jams on the highways and were detoured from one filled parking lot to another before finally arriving at 10:45 -- and missing runs by 18 of the top 20 finishers.
"We bought 'A' tickets with $100 face value," Ward said. "I'm very upset. There's no way we're getting our money back. It's nice to be at the Olympics, and we're going to make the best of it, but it's a shame they didn't plan this better. They knew how many people would be coming, and they certainly had enough time to work it out."
The traffic mess even punished some VIPs.
Mark Lampe, chief financial officer for the U.S. Ski Team, was turned away from the VIP parking lot when he arrived and he wound up missing the whole downhill.