The American state of Utah is busy making final preparations for the Winter Olympics. The Olympic Games will open early next month. I'm Sarah Long. And I'm Bob Doughty. The story of the Olympics is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.
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Athletes from around the world will compete for medals at the Nineteenth Winter Olympic Games. The Winter Games will open in Salt Lake City, Utah, on February eighth. They will continue until February twenty-fourth. An estimated three-thousand-five-hundred athletes and officials from about eighty countries will take part in the games.
The athletes will compete to win medals in seventy-eight events testing their skill in seven winter sports. The sports include skiing, ice skating, sledding and ice hockey. Thousands of people will attend the events. Millions more around the world will watch the Olympics on television.
Salt Lake City, Utah is in the Rocky Mountains of the American West. Most of the state is dry. Average yearly rainfall is thirty centimeters. Yet, a lot of snow falls in the mountains in winter.
The United States last held the Winter Olympic Games twenty-two years ago. The Nineteen-Eighty Games were in Lake Placid, New York. They were among the most exciting in history. American Eric Heiden won all five speed-skating races. He became the first athlete to win five individual gold medals at one Olympics. Also, the American ice hockey team won an unexpected gold medal at the Lake Placid games.
The modern Olympics are named after games held in ancient times. The games are said to have started in the ancient Greek city of Olympia, about two-thousand-seven-hundred years ago.
The first thirteen Olympic games were foot races during celebrations to honor the Greek god Zeus. Winners were honored with a crown of olive leaves placed around their head. Greece continued to hold the games every four years for the next one-thousand years. The ancient Romans finally banned them in the fourth century when they ruled Greece. They destroyed the Olympic centers and sports fields.
The first modern Olympics were held in Athens, Greece, in Eighteen-Ninety-Six. A French diplomat, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, proposed a world celebration of sports like the ancient games of Greece. He believed the international event would provide a way for athletes of all nations to become friends.
Today, the Olympics are the world's most famous sports event. The five rings of the Olympic sign represent this athletic friendship. They represent the linking, through sports, of five parts of the world: Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas.
The Olympics have many traditions. For example, a special Olympic flame always burns at the games. The Olympic flame was lit in Olympia, Greece. Runners are carrying it across the United States to Utah. The Olympic flame will arrive in Salt Lake City on the day of the opening ceremonies.
Utah is a popular holiday area. The state earns hundreds of millions of dollars from visitors each year. Many visitors travel there to take part in winter sports.
Utah is one of the best places in the United States for skiing. Many skiing events at the Olympics will be held at the Utah Olympic Park, high in the Wasatch Mountains, about forty kilometers east of Salt Lake City. It is about two-thousand-two-hundred meters above sea level. The mountains receive an average of seven-and-one-half meters of snow each winter.
The Utah Olympic Park has five areas for ski jump competitions. An Olympic-size track was built for bobsled and luge competitions. It is one of only three such tracks in North America. The track is close to the ground and has fifteen turns. Its path is similar in shape to the land.
The Utah Olympic Park will hold four major events during the Winter Games. They are the Nordic skiing, bobsled, luge and skeleton competitions. The skeleton event has not been seen at the Olympics since Nineteen-Forty-Eight. Officials expect it to be extremely popular. Athletes competing in the skeleton ride down the track on a luge sled. But they ride head first on their stomachs, instead of feet first on their backs.
One of the world's top skeleton riders is Jim Shea of the United States. He is the first American to win a skeleton world championship. He also is the third member of his family to compete in the Winter Olympics. Jim Shea's father, James, competed in three events at the Nineteen-Sixty-Four games in Innsbruck, Austria. James Shea's father, Jack, won two speed-skating races at the Nineteen-Thirty-Two Games in Lake Placid, New York.
Jack Shea was to have been honored at the Olympics opening ceremony as the oldest American to have won a gold medal at the Winter Olympics. But he died last week of injuries suffered in a car accident. He was ninety-one years old.
Another athlete to watch at the Olympics is Michelle Kwan. She has been the top American women's figure skater in recent years. Kwan has already won four world figure skating championships. She has been national champion six times. Now, pressure is building on Kwan to win her first Olympic gold medal. She won a silver medal at the Nineteen-Ninety-Eight Winter games in Nagano (NA-ga-no) Japan.
Olympic athletes spend many hours training for the games. This can be very costly. In many countries, the government provides athletes with special trainers, equipment and economic support.
In the United States, athletes do not receive such support from the government. Instead, they depend on help from private groups and companies, or from the United States Olympic Committee. The committee supervises all activities of the United States Olympic teams.
The United States Olympic Committee helps gain money to support American athletes who hope to compete in the Olympics. It does this in several ways. The committee receives most of its money from private companies. The companies pay the committee for the right to use the Olympic sign to help sell their products. The committee also earns money by selling sporting goods, clothing and other products with the Olympic sign. Television companies also pay the committee for the right to broadcast the Olympic games.
The Salt Lake City Olympics had problems, long before the games were to open. Three years ago, an investigation found that top officials of the Salt Lake City Olympic Committee gave money and gifts to members of the International Olympic Committee. The payments were reportedly made in an effort to win votes for the city to hold the Winter Games.
The findings badly damaged the image of Salt Lake City and the Olympics. The Salt Lake City Olympic Committee quickly re-organized and continued making plans for the games.
Security at the Olympics has been a major concern since the Nineteen-Seventy-Two Summer Games in Munich, Germany. That is when eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team were killed in a terrorist attack. Six years ago, a bomb exploded at the Summer Games in Atlanta, Georgia killing one person. Many people still have fresh memories of the September eleventh terrorist attacks in the United States. Olympic organizers and Utah officials recognize that the Winter Games could be a target for terrorists.
Olympic officials say they are prepared for any security threat. The federal government, state of Utah and Salt Lake City Olympic Committee are spending more than three-hundred-million dollars on security. That total is a record for any sporting event in history. Thousands of federal, state and local law enforcement officials will be protecting the athletes and people watching the events. Entrances to all events will be heavily guarded.
Mitt Romney is chairman of the Salt Lake City Olympic Committee. Mr. Romney says it is necessary to hold the Olympics because of what they represent. He says the Olympics represent civilization and the family of mankind. He says the Olympics are more important now than ever.
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This program was written by George Grow. It was produced by Caty Weaver. Our studio engineer was Dwayne Collins. I'm Bob Doughty. And I'm Sarah Long. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.