This year's Winter Olympics, which starts in Salt Lake City this weekend, will be noticeably different in two ways:
First, these will be the first Olympic Games held since the terrorist attack last September and thus held in airtight security for fans and athletes alike. No more unfenced gathering areas without checkpoints. The throngs of spectators will themselves be watched by thousands of federal agents, police, and soldiers. The skies will be combed for airborne intruders.
Second, though the Salt Lake hosts have done all they can to erase the taint, the Olympics bid-fixing scandal will hang in the air. The local organizing committee's descent into bribery to ensure that their city was chosen by International Olympic Committee members followed a sleazy pattern that had become ingrained in the IOC. Reforms are now in place, a new president heads the IOC, and Salt Lake, ironically, could mark the beginning of a more ethical era.
For all the past problems, these Games will help perpetuate the Olympic tradition of universal ideals expressed in international sports competition. Athletes from diverse countries will come together to test their skills. This year, particularly, peace and unity should be themes. Blatant nationalism from flag-waving fans - or TV commentators - will, hopefully, be tempered.
Many of those winning medals will be professional athletes who make a living at their sport. But that shouldn't diminish the motives of others who will glide along interminable Nordic courses or skate at incredible speeds and possibly never win a medal or get a product-endorsement contract. Their accomplishment, just being at the Games, is remarkable enough.
Secure and free of taint, the Games can once again showcase the athletic skill, years of dedication, and international goodwill that promotes peace.