Salt Lake Olympics: Hockey History Missed
- Olympics: Organizers missed out on history
By Janet Rae Brooks
The Salt Lake Tribune
It was the Rose Bowl for women's soccer. It could have been Rice-Eccles
Stadium for women's hockey.
Organizers of last year's Winter Olympics were planning to stage the women's
hockey final -- almost certainly a showdown between Canada and the United
States -- under the stars at Rice-Eccles before a football game-size crowd
of about 55,000.
It would have been the first outdoor Olympic hockey match in almost half a
century, and the largest hockey crowd ever assembled at the Games. It could
have pushed women's hockey into the nation's consciousness in the same way
that a sell-out Rose Bowl crowd of 90,185 for the 1999 women's World Cup
final thrust women's soccer into the mainstream.
"Afterward, we were a little disappointed that we didn't take the risk,"
said Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation.
The open-air contest was former bid leader Dave Johnson's idea. Rice-Eccles
was being fitted with ice and lighting for opening and closing ceremonies
anyway. A hockey game -- certain to become one of the Salt Lake Olympics'
signature events -- could have been squeezed in at little cost.
The extra tickets would have been sold cheaply to locals. "You would have
been able to get tickets to see a gold-medal hockey game for 10 or 20
bucks," said Johnson.
Johnson first asked hockey chief Fasel if he had the stomach to stage an
outdoor game. "Sure," Fasel replied. "No problem." Fasel also ran the idea
past the U.S. and Canadian hockey federations. They both backed it.
Johnson then sought out weather data for the proposed three-day window of
opportunity for the game. He got a green light there, too. "The odds of us
holding the event in three days were 90 percent," he said.
He then started preliminary talks with Games' host broadcaster NBC.
"Unfortunately," said Johnson, "I resigned [from the organizing committee]
three weeks later."
The idea didn't die with Johnson's departure, but eventually Olympic
organizers and international hockey officials decided to hold the women's
final closer to the Games' end, which removed the weather window required
for an outdoor match.
And the weather outside while Canada was inside beating the United States in
last year's women's final at the E Center? "It was absolutely spectacular,"
said Johnson. "And no wind."
In bookstores Now:
THE WORLD CUP OF HOCKEY
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