Olympic committee polishes image as Winter Games near

Perhaps nothing embodies the new spirit of the International Olympic Committee more than this one-block stretch of Main Street here.

On the left is the Grand America hotel, a white-pillared monolith of unseemly opulence - lit brighter than the State Capitol at night, and lavishly appointed cherry wood furniture and bathrooms of Italian marble. On the right is the Little America, its neighbor's blocky predecessor that - from this angle - looks more Residence Inn than Ritz-Carlton.

When International Olympic Committee (IOC) members arrived here for the opening ceremony of the IOC's 113th session on Sunday night, the Grand America might have seemed the logical choice of accommodation. But this Olympics, IOC officials are colonizing the Little rather than the Grand. And the organization's president, Jacques Rogge, is staying in a University of Utah dormitory room in the Olympic village. It was here, three years ago, that revelations of a bribery scandal sullied the reputation of an organization whose admitted goal is the betterment of the human condition, and spurred the more aggressive reforms in the IOC's 108-year history.

From its temperate choice of Olympic living quarters, to new rules by which cities will bid for the Games, to drug testing at the games, the IOC is taking steps to reshape an organization that, ironically, had come to represent the vices of privilege and power - values directly opposite to the soul of the Games. That corruption was never more apparent than after it was found that the Salt Lake bidding committee had given some $1 million in cash, gifts, and scholarships to various IOC members in order to win the Games.

Late last month, federal prosecutors appealed the dismisal by a Utah federal judge of 15 felony charges, including bribery, against two leaders of Salt Lake City's bid for the games.

The pace of change, most agree, remains slow. Yet with global pressure, and the election of a new president last July, a new emphasis on ethics is emerging.

"It was here, in Salt Lake City, that we first learned of a profound crisis which nearly destroyed the IOC," Mr. Rogge said of the scandal during his opening remarks at Sunday night's ceremony. "Inappropriate structures and human weaknesses on both sides were the root of an evil that would have come to light here or somewhere else."

There was much criticism of the IOC's initial reforms, such as creating an ethics commission and prohibiting members from visiting bid cities. To some, it was still a group that could make its own rules and had no significant outside oversight. The real change occurred, they say, when former President Juan Antonio Samaranch's term ended in July. Not that he was the cause of corruption. Rather, his IOC carried an air of aristocracy that hindered any sincere push for openness, critics suggest.

With Mr. Samaranch - who asked to be called "excellency" - gone, "the more authoritarian style of leadership is gone," says John Hoberman, an Olympic historian at the University of Texas in Austin.

Even some members of the IOC acknowledge that the organization's culture has changed. "It was just a different generation," says Robert Ctvrtlik, a gold-medal winner with the 1988 United States men's volleyball team, and an IOC member since 1999.

Mr. Ctvrtlik himself is evidence of the evolving nature of the IOC. As one of several athletes elected to the IOC in the wake of the scandal, he and his colleagues have tried to help bring the Olympic ideal from athletics into administration.

"Bringing in real Olympic athletes was key," says Jeffrey Segrave, and Olympic historian at Skidmore College in New York. "It's upping the voice of those who participated in the Games."

What's more, Ctvrtlik has played a leading role in the new antidoping agency, which is run separately from the IOC. After years of being criticized for ignoring the issue, the IOC has taken an important step forward for these Games, many say.

Several athletes have already tested positive for these Games, and there is the sense that the noose is tightening.

"It's significant that the doping agency has achieved a real independence from the IOC, which has never happened before," says Professor Hoberman.

And in Salt Lake, which has felt tarred by its association with the scandal, townspeople are taking extraordinary measures to change visitors' perceptions: Volunteers were given a 150-page manual for behavior that outlaws gum-chewing, visible tattoos, folded arms, or lengthy conversations about the scandal.

"We just want to look more worthy," says Salt Lake resident Stephen Sorensen. "It's caused everyone to ratchet up everything to make this the best, the most friendly Games ever."

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