SALT LAKE CITY — The last time the United States held a Winter Olympics, the athletes slept in a prison and organizers nearly had to declare bankruptcy on a $168 million budget.
When the 2002 Winter Games open in February, the accommodations will be a lot nicer than they were in 1980 in Lake Placid, N.Y. - and the overall budget will be four-star.
These will be the most expensive Winter Games ever, costing nearly $2 billion - or $791,667 per athlete - to stage 17 days of skiing, skating, and other events. Eighteen cents of every dollar will be picked up by US taxpayers.
The budget is nearly triple the cost of the larger '84 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, even in inflation-adjusted dollars.
"I don't know how they're spending so much. It's the Winter Games, for gosh sakes," says Dick Pound, an International Olympic Committee member from Canada who headed the IOC oversight committee for the Atlanta Olympics.
The lavish spending is a reflection of a trend in recent years: Each Olympic city tries to outdo the last. But costs have also soared because of the increase in security, a rising number of athletes, and expensive technology.
The Salt Lake City figures are staggering even to Olympic officials who thought the 1998 Nagano Games, at $1.1 billion, pushed extravagance to its limit.
Despite the huge expenditure, organizers say the Salt Lake Games will pay what they owe and leave Utah with some winter sports facilities and a $40 million fund to enjoy them after the Games, Feb. 8 to 24. "We expect to break even," says Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee.
That will happen largely because of the largess of television, which will pay $442 million for the right to broadcast the Games. Organizers also sold the Games well, bringing in an additional $553 million in sponsor money before the national economy took a nosedive.