XIX Olympic Winter Games

XIX Olympic Winter Games
▪ 2003
by Melinda C. Shepherd
      For a complete list of gold medal winners, see Table (Olympic Champions, XIX Winter Games, Salt Lake City).

      For 17 days, Feb. 8–24, 2002, Salt Lake City, Utah, played host to the XIX Olympic Winter Games. In the years leading up to the event, the scandal-ridden Salt Lake Olympic Committee had faced allegations of official bribery, corruption, and misused funds as well as a change in leadership. The terrorist attacks in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent “war on terrorism” had also increased the need for additional costly security measures. Initially, some observers raised concerns that the event would become little more than a display of U.S. strength and patriotism, and some criticized the introduction in the Opening Ceremony of a U.S. flag from New York City's “ground zero,” where the destroyed World Trade Center had stood. At the Closing Ceremony, however, International Olympic Committee Pres. Jacques Rogge praised Salt Lake, the largest city ever to host the Winter Olympics, for the “superb games.”

      Some 2,400 athletes representing 77 national Olympic committees from places as far away (and unlikely) as Cameroon, Kenya, India, Brazil, Iran, Thailand, and Fiji competed for 234 medals in 78 events. Athletes from 25 countries, including Australia and Estonia, took home medals, led by Germany's record 35 (12 gold). The U.S. finished with 34 (10 gold), far exceeding the 13 earned at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. Norway finished third with 24 (11 gold). Fifty-three competitors won more than one medal, notably Norwegian Ole Einar Bjørndalen (see Biographies (Bjorndalen, Ole Einar )), who swept all four golds in men's biathlon; Croatian Janica Kostelic (see Biographies (Kostelic, Janica )), who captured three golds and a silver in Alpine skiing; Samppa Lajunen of Finland, who won all three Nordic combined events; and Swiss sensation Simon Ammann, who upset the favourites to win both the 90-m and 120-m individual ski jumps. Eight speed-skating world records were broken, including two by Jochem Uytdehaage of The Netherlands and two by Germany's Claudia Pechstein (see Biographies (Pechstein, Claudia )). Men's skeleton, which returned to the Olympics after a 54-year absence, was won by third-generation U.S. Olympian Jim Shea, Jr. (see Biographies (Shea, Jim, Jr. )), just a month after the death of his grandfather, champion speed skater Jack Shea (see Obituaries (Shea, Jack )). Two women's events made their first appearance—skeleton and bobsleigh, which was won in an upset by Americans Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers, the first black Winter Olympic gold medalist.

      Once again, a judging scandal in figure skating captured world headlines. In the pairs competition a French judge initially claimed that she had been pressured to vote for gold medal winners Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia over the second-place Canadian pair, Jamie Salé and David Pelletier (see Biographies (Sale, Jamie, and Pelletier, David )). Although the judge later recanted her story, after four days of discussions Salé and Pelletier were awarded a second pair of gold medals.

Melinda C. Shepherd is Associate Editor of Encyclopædia Britannica Yearbooks.

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