The significance of the 2002 Olympic cauldron in Salt Lake City at the University of Utah


Seeing the cauldron of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics on Friday lit a memory in Spencer Eccles’ mind.

That was about 20 years ago. The weather was ticking and Utah still didn’t have a cauldron or the funding for one – well, a proper cauldron. Senator Mitt Romney, then president and CEO of the 2002 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Salt Lake, came to Eccles, a member of the Salt Lake organizing committee and mayor of the Athletes’ Village that year. , and joked that they had the money for one but that wouldn’t look good at all.

“At one point – and I’m exaggerating here – but (he) tried to convince me that if our foundation didn’t intervene with funds for the cauldron, an important iconic symbol of the games themselves, that they wouldn’t. ‘had that enough money in the budget… to buy a few Weber charcoal grills, weld them together and hoist them onto the mast at the Rice-Eccles stadium, ”Eccles said with a laugh.“ And you might guess, that certainly did. caught my attention. “

It wasn’t much of an exaggeration, Romney is willing to admit it. He said there was about $ 5,000 left in the budget and he would need “millions” to ensure the 2002 Games have a respectable cauldron.

Of course, anyone who watched the Olympics that winter knows that Salt Lake City was not subjected to flag poles and charcoal barbecues. Eccles, also president and CEO of the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, helped raise the necessary funds to ensure Salt Lake City had one.

Now, as the 20th anniversary of the Salt Lake City Games approaches, the cauldron has been officially re-ignited – temporarily, at least – in a new plaza in a new location just outside of the University’s Rice-Eccles Stadium. from Utah. Romney, Eccles and others who have worked behind the scenes to organize or participate in the games gathered on Friday afternoon to unveil the new Olympic and Paralympic Games in Salt Lake City and light the cauldron once more after its recent renovation .

A chaotic race to design and light the cauldron

Much of Friday’s event was spent remembering and sharing stories about the 2002 Games. As for the cauldron, there are plenty of crazy stories to share even after the organizers have passed. flag poles and railings.

WET Design, co-founded by University of Utah graduate Mark Fuller, was chosen to design the cauldron. Eccles remembers that the flame, spanning over 10 feet, was visible throughout the Salt Lake valley once the cauldron was lit. This, Romney said, required a lot of gas to power – so much he was told that “several people cooking had their stoves turned off” when the first lighting test occurred at the company’s California studio. .

The design itself was quite a challenge. Once the “light the fire inside” theme was selected, organizers told Romney they likely needed a cauldron that somehow reflected that. An idea emerged to make it out of glass so that it could appear as if the Olympic flame was burning inside. But this concept encountered several logistical problems.

“Mark Fuller and his team said, ‘Well, it’s good to have a fire inside the glass, but you know what the fire does inside the glass? don’t go see fire, ”Romney remembers Friday.

Senator Mitt Romney explores the location of the 2002 University of Utah Olympic and Paralympic cauldron during an unveiling ceremony at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

So, in order for this to happen, they were told they had to include “a series” of nozzles pouring water into the glass. They would also need a heating system for the water given that the games were in the middle of winter which made it easy to freeze the water.

The final product was constructed from hardened steel and 738 pieces of glass designed to recall an ice cube, assembled just in time to be lit on February 8, 2002.

That night, however, the navigation was not easy. Romney explained that in order to light the cauldron during the ceremony, you must have a nightlight that lights the cauldron. Two night lights were installed at the time to ensure that if one goes out before the cauldron is lit, a second is still there.

“And just before the opening ceremonies, a big wind hit and blew the two night lights. And there was no way to get up there to light that thing,” Romney said.

He said there was a security plan, however: “a little flint and a long string, so if the worst should happen, you can pull that string and hopefully it will light the fire.”

This is exactly what happened that night almost two decades ago.

“We were the few with hearts in our throats,” Romney said, recalling that night.

Cauldron refurbishment

The cauldron was eventually moved to a location near the stadium’s southern end area in 2003. Teams then removed it in February 2020 at the start of a stadium seating expansion project.

University of Utah President Taylor Randall said on Friday that the 72-foot cauldron had since been “completely renovated,” including all of the glass panels that now have LED lights. It has been placed on a large pedestal which itself includes a water fountain.

Randall added that the flame has also been updated to be “clean burning,” making it more environmentally friendly than it originally was. As Olympic music blared from the nearby stadium, it was turned on again on Friday in honor of the square’s reopening.

It sits next to the information boards and artwork that make up the new plaza just outside the stadium. All new articles are free to the public.

The 2002 Olympic Winter Games cauldron burned brightly outside Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday.  The 72-foot cauldron does not rest on a pedal fountain outside the stadium.

The 2002 Olympic Winter Games cauldron burned brightly outside Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday. The 72-foot cauldron does not rest on a pedal fountain outside the stadium.
Carter Williams,

Fraser Bullock, President and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Games Committee and COO and CFO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Salt Lake, said there was a plan to relight the cauldron on February 8, 2022, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the opening ceremonies.

“Our heritage is our future”

While the cauldron may conjure up memories of what was needed to get the games off the ground, the 2002 Winter Olympics are still considered a gigantic success. Randall said the success likely helped push Utah even further as a winter sports destination.

At a time when host cities are claiming losses, the 2002 Olympics ended up becoming both memorable and profitable. The 2002 Games are remembered as an event that brought the nation – and the world – together just months after September 11.

“I think many of my 2002 teammates will agree that these games were magical,” said Catherine Raney Norman, four-time Olympian and chair of the Salt Lake City-Utah Games committee.

It’s no surprise, then, that Salt Lake City has pushed to host more Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Whether or not that will happen remains to be seen.

Norman said that at the very least, the 2002 Games carry an important legacy.

“I know the foundation we laid in 2002 will continue to propel us and inspire our youth,” Norman said. “I often hear (Bullock) say, ‘Our legacy is our future. “Today we are surrounded by many of our athletes and community members who continue to live the Olympic and Paralympic values: faster, higher, stronger together.”


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