“Here we are – the center of the world.”

Stepping out of the car, we stretched our road-weary joints, drew a breath of arid mountain air and surveyed the land. It was quiet and cold. The sun had been in the sky for only an hour and snow covered the earth in all directions. But the words rang true. You could feel it the air: All eyes were on Utah.

In a state known for jokes about its polygamous missionaries, avid fans and the world’s best athletes had come together for the end-all, be-all of international competition. I, on the other hand, had come on a spur-of-the-moment invitation.

Salt Lake City was, for three weeks, the center of the world. But I never would have known it if I hadn’t shown up. We arrived the weekend of closing ceremonies and it was the first lick of attention I had paid to the games.

Media commentators are now calling the 2002 Winter Olympics one of the most successful in history. But as the torch made its way from Athens, nobody knew what was going to happen.

NBC was freaked. The station received nothing but complaints about the Sydney coverage in 2000 and CBS had dropped the ball at Nagano in 1998. The games were verging on anachronism. Viewership was on the decline, especially among the young.

I thought the Olympics had become obsolete and hollow, a media-driven spectacle that survived only because of the revenue it generated. The televised events weren’t terribly exciting either. You just won’t hear the adjective “furious” used before the words “curling match” in a sentence. Events like slalom and aerials are more alluring, but the enormity of the whole thing still doesn’t come through the screen.

The feeling changed as soon as we got to Park City. At a caf