New urgency to security for Winter Games
PARK CITY, UTAH
On the list of potential terrorist targets in the United States, Utah ought to feel pretty secure. Here, a half-day's drive from any major population center, there are no famous towers, no prominent federal buildings, and not many people.
Instead, in the weeks after two terrorist attacks more than 2,000 miles away, people in this insulated Rocky Mountain enclave feel they might be next.
The coming of the Winter Olympics this February has already split this resort community on the brow of the Wasatch Front by turning it - and nearby Salt Lake City - into a tangle of backhoes and construction cranes. Now, Utahns worry that the Games' high-profile display of international pride and goodwill might lure terror to their door.
With the opening ceremony only a few months away, there is a sense of urgency to deal with the issues of openness and security raised since Sept. 11. On Monday, Olympic officials announced that they had drafted plans for heightened security.
In many ways, the concerns here are simply a reflection of those across the country, only amplified. At the same time, citizens are struggling to move on and fully embrace what should be one of the proudest moments in their history.
"My first thought was: Who is ever going to bomb Utah? Then I thought about the Olympics," says Wendy Crowther, a Salt Lake resident ducking in and out of the silver-rush-era shops here with her husband and son. "People just don't think about Salt Lake - at least until you invite everyone."
And everyone will be coming. Some 40,000 people are expected to come to Park City each day. The 15-minute drive from Salt Lake up through the rocky notch of Parley's Canyon could take as long as an hour. In an effort to keep the roads as clear as possible, local merchants have been told to be at work by 7 a.m.
From one end of Main Street, Michael Kaplan gazes into the distance through his wire-rimmed oval glasses and pictures what will be - kiosks, tents, booths. In five months, the mountainsides now shocked with the red and yellow of maple and aspen will be swathed in snow, and this nearly deserted street of Victorian facades will be teeming with activity.
But in his vision, the auburn-haired city-council candidate also sees gates, checkpoints, and metal detectors surrounding the pedestrian area. Even before the events of Sept. 11, he was worried about a repeat of the Centennial Park bombing, which marred the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games. Now, he sees tighter security measures as imperative.
"We can't stop the dedicated bomber," he says. "What I want is a deterrence factor."
It is this last statement that concerns locals most. If anything, the recent attacks revealed huge security cracks that Olympic organizers must mend, and shattered any ignorant sense of security.
For the most part, the battle lines have not shifted - those who have supported the Games from the beginning still do, and those who didn't still don't. But now, among many, there is a note of caution.
Ms. Crowther, who had been largely indifferent about the Olympics, was starting to warm to the idea that the Games were a "once in a lifetime opportunity." "Tuesday cast a pall over that," she says, adding that she's unsure whether she would feel safe at events.
Others, have struck a defiant tone. To them, the Olympics are a rallying point and a charge to be on guard. Park City resort employee Brad Larsen, for one, seems to relish the opportunity. An electrician who describes his job as "going behind everyone and fixing what they tear up," Mr. Larson says he'll be working at the top of the lifts throughout the Games, "and I'll have my eyes open."
That's no small thing. Everything about Larsen suggests sturdiness and reliability, from the copper-colored tips of his white mustache to the frayed edge of his jeans. The black grime that stains his fingers and nails hints at the 108 hours of vacation he's built up to keep the place running.
Now, he's not about to see that go to waste. "Forget living in fear and having other people rule your life," he says.
Britt Swartley would probably agree. A few miles down the road, he's preparing for the Olympics in a completely different way, schussing down a special snow-free ski jump, contorting his body into as many unnatural positions as possible, and splashing into a pool below.
As a freestyle aerialist on the US Olympic Ski Team, Mr. Swartley says he has "a job do to," and is focused on winning a medal. But the tall, stubble-chinned skier acknowledges that the recent attacks have changed the tenor of the Games.
"It's going to be a long time before we see the patriotism die down," he says, "and that's going to make it more meaningful."
Previous installments of this series ran on Sept. 21, 24, and 25.