The ride clocks in at 71.5 miles per hour, with an effect that’s three times the force of gravity. It takes more than a dozen curves in 61 seconds, and it’s over before you know it.
The ride is taking place on the same course that hosted the bobsled, skeleton, and luge competitions at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. Although the bobsled in use is being piloted by an experienced athlete, the ride is something that ordinary visitors to the Utah Olympic Park can enjoy.
Indeed, on this summer afternoon at the park, athletes and enthusiasts – young and old, experienced and novice – are engaging in a range of activities. Children and families are participating in zip-line and ropes courses, and others are riding tubes down the iconic Olympic ski jumps. Meanwhile, members of the national ski team are practicing their doubles and triples into a special pool that helps simulate a winter climate. As for the bobsled ride, participants climb into an apparatus outfitted with wheels that can negotiate the course in the absence of ice.
The 2002 Games are known as having had the largest crowds ever for a Winter Olympics. Today, the venue continues to be a destination.
And Colin Hilton, president and chief executive officer of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, plays a key role in managing the balance between the many people who come to the facilities.
“Here, we are making sure that these Olympic venues are not just for a select few, but are for the masses – for locals, for visitors, for athletes in training, for kids who just want to come and have a fun program,” says Mr. Hilton, who notes the results he’s seen: “We are four times busier today in our use of our Olympic venue than we were after the 2002 Games.”
And it’s not only about athletic excellence. “Our measure of success is more about participation rates than it is about gold medals,” Hilton says.
The Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation has several aims, including to celebrate the spirit of the 2002 Games, to inspire and promote active lifestyles, and to facilitate community use of these venues: the Utah Olympic Park in Park City, the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, and Soldier Hollow Nordic Center near Midway, Utah. The foundation also maintains the venues, some of which serve as US Olympic Training Sites year-round.
One focus of Hilton and his team is improving the quality of youth sports and physical fitness programs in Utah.
“We have programs and camps, and all sorts of activities, at our three Olympic venues” for local residents including youngsters, says Hilton, who notes it can be hard to get more people to maintain an active lifestyle. “Utah has a lot of great outdoors, and we do have a love of outdoor recreation, but it is challenged like it is in every city in the United States,” he says.
So organizers work to offer youths and other members of the community a range of opportunities, such as public skate times at the Olympic Oval and camp programming at the Olympic Park.
Also, for the past 12 years the foundation has provided physical education classes to children at two elementary schools in Salt Lake City. The instruction is by professional coaches, and the backdrop is the oval.
“We look at these Olympic venues as community recreation centers, as opportunities to be a place where kids and families can go,” Hilton says.
About 1.5 million visits annually
More than 600,000 visit the Olympic Park each year, and some 900,000 pass through the doors of the oval, Hilton says. Youth programming reaches nearly 20,000 on average annually between the three venues.
Those numbers have been on the rise, he notes. In 2006, he says, 400 children participated in learn-to-skate programs. Today, that number is over 1,500.
Fraser Bullock was the chief operating officer of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Games, and he’s co-chair of the Olympic exploratory committee working to potentially bring the global event back to Salt Lake City in 2030.
“I am amazed when I go up in the winter and see hundreds of children skiing, jumping ... and then I go down to [the] oval and see hundreds engaged in ice sports,” says Mr. Bullock in an email interview. “We couldn’t have written a better script for our post-Games legacy.”
Bullock unequivocally credits Hilton.
“Colin has been the heart and soul of the Foundation,” he says. “He has incredible dedication, which he combines with fantastic vision to get the Foundation to where it is today and for the future.”
And yes, there are stories of young people who have been inspired by the Olympic venues and end up training to become Olympians themselves. Speedskater Jerica Tandiman is a prime example: She grew up in a housing complex near the Olympic Oval and made the US speedskating team for this year’s Olympics.
There’s also Miriah Johnson, who began aerial skiing five years ago at a camp hosted by the foundation. She’s competed year-round at the Utah Olympic Park and has received foundation support for her training.
“The impact of the Foundation has been powerful,” says Ms. Johnson in an email, noting the foundation’s support both for athletes and the venues. “They have helped keep the Olympic energy alive....”
Johnson also speaks highly of Hilton and his commitment. “He works passionately to help maintain and grow what the Utah Olympic Legacy is all about,” she says, “from the day-to-day work, to the vision of expanding the park to continue to develop athletes.”
Sports as a transformer
While Hilton enjoys celebrating stories like those of Johnson and Ms. Tandiman, he is also glad to see the quieter transformations that sports and a positive, supportive environment can bring about for any young person.
“I’m equally happy about the hundreds of thousands of kids who go through the facility every year, [and] I am a big believer in sports being a medium to develop life skills, [set] goals, [and build] confidence,” he says. “We have a platform with the Olympic rings to showcase how the true [spirit of the Olympics] can really come out and how sports should be in our world today.”
Hilton is no stranger to international sporting events, having gotten his start helping to organize the 1993 World University Games in Buffalo, N.Y. He also served on the organizing committee for the 1994 FIFA World Cup and the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Then he was invited to assist with the Salt Lake City Games.
“I loved the community-building dynamics of these major sporting events,” he says. “Salt Lake was one of the most rewarding jobs that I ever had.”
After that, Hilton took a job as economic development director for Park City, in which he helped reshape the city’s image from being just a ski town into a destination that has a range of attractions and amenities.
Hilton assumed his present role in 2006 and was challenged with changing the culture, which at the time focused almost solely on high-performance athletes. He has also shepherded the creation of a long-term strategic plan and has worked to secure funding for infrastructure repairs and upgrades.
In addition, he has bolstered public uses of the Olympic Park and has increased revenue from paid events and fundraisers to accommodate the $17 million annual operating budget. And he’s protected the sizable endowment that was given to the foundation at the close of the 2002 Games.
Many of the goals that Hilton has championed for the foundation are also providing support for Salt Lake City’s likely bid for the 2030 Games, he says.
“The International Olympic Committee has recognized that going back to regions around the world that have already-existing infrastructure – and have been using these facilities in a sustainable, prudent way – is a very logical and right thing to do,” he says.
• For more, visit utaholympiclegacy.org.
Other groups reaching out to communities
UniversalGiving helps people give to and volunteer for top-performing charitable organizations around the world. All the projects below are vetted by UniversalGiving; 100 percent of each donation goes directly to the listed cause.
• The Small Things creates care plans for orphaned children and at-risk families in the Meru district of Tanzania. Take action: Be a volunteer for this organization’s community library and adult education program.
• Global Partners for Development works with communities in rural East Africa to improve education and public health. Take action: Donate money to aid education efforts in the Singida region of Tanzania.