TOPICS > Nation

2002 Winter Olympics Begin Under Heavy Security

BY Admin  February 8, 2002 at 2:05 PM EST

President Bush will formally open the 2002 Winter Olympic ceremonies with a tribute to the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks on Washington and New York.

The president’s opening remarks, released earlier today by the White House, will commemorate the courage of the athletes and the firefighters and police who endured losses from the Sept. 11 attacks.

“All people appreciate the discipline that produces excellence, the courage that overcomes difficult odds and the character the creates champions.

“We believe that these ideals — liberty and freedom — make it possible for people to live together in peace, and the Olympics give the world a chance in the middle of a difficult struggle to celebrate international peace and cooperation,” the president says in his statement.

During the opening ceremonies, a tattered U.S. flag discovered in the World Trade Center rubble will be carried onto the field. It will not be raised, as originally planned, because it is too delicate.

Mitt Romney, chief organizer for the games, said on the NewsHour on Tuesday that the games have an even more profound meaning since Sept. 11.

“Now the games affirmed civilization, affirmed humanity, if you will, and stood for everything which was the opposite of Sept. 11 tragedy.” 

The White House said that President Bush planned to watch most of the opening ceremonies from an open air sky box with several Olympic and political officials.

The president also plans to meet with American athletes and members of the New York Port Authority, an agency which endured major losses in the World Trade Center collapse.

Major security effort

The 2002 Games begin under the tightest security presence ever, with at least 15,000 security personnel on hand for the opening ceremonies, scheduled to begin at 7 pm EST at the Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium.

Olympic officials expect nearly 52,000 spectators to attend, despite publicly voiced concerns over security and potential terrorist activities.

The Salt Lake City Organizing Committee has also broken Olympic records in implementing a major security force throughout the city and around Olympic venues, costing $300 million.

“We literally have more (armed forces) in the area around Salt Lake City for the Olympics than we do in Afghanistan,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld explained in regards anti-terrorist security.

The FBI, Secret Service, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are overseeing the anti-terrorist security efforts.

Officials have restricted flights within a 45-mile radius around Salt Lake City and ten other Olympic venue sites. Security workers will use biometric scanners to identify Olympic athletes and officials.

Today, authorities, who have been scanning suspicious items with portable X-ray instruments, blew up a suspicious package found in a car parked in downtown Salt Lake City. The Salt Lake City Olympic Committee’s Joint Information Center later announced that the package was actually a “hoax device” which had the appearance of a bomb.