Remembering The Top Moments From The 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games
by Bob Reinert
Two decades later, much has changed as today’s athletes take part in the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. However, the 2002 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games featured some iconic performances, memorable moments and important milestones that are still notable today.
On the 20th anniversary of the start of the last Winter Games to be held in the U.S., we take a look back at some of the highlights from Salt Lake City.
Sarah Hughes performs in the figure skating exhibition during the Olympic Winter Games Salt Lake City 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Taking place on American soil a short five months after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the Olympic Games marked an important milestone for the country. During the Opening Ceremony eight American athletes displayed a tattered U.S. flag that had flown at the World Trade Center.
Later, Sarah Hughes of Great Neck, New York, sprung a major upset by winning the gold medal in women’s figure skating in the aftermath of the attack.
“It had been such a terrible few months for the country, especially for my home area,” Hughes told the U.S. Figure Skating website late last year, “that knowing what I did brought a little joy to people is something very meaningful to me.”
Mike Eruzione, captain of the 1980 'Miracle on Ice' US Hockey Team and the rest of the gold medal hockey squad prepare to light the Olympic Cauldron during the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games Salt Lake City 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah on Feb. 8, 2002.
Twenty-two years after they stunned the world by winning the 1980 Olympic gold medal in Lake Placid, New York, members of the U.S. men’s ice hockey team, led by captain Mike Eruzione, lit the Olympic cauldron at Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium to open the Games. Eruzione’s identity was unknown before he emerged to light the flame.
“It was the hardest secret I’ve ever had to keep,” Eruzione said later.
As their 1980 hockey heroes performed the ceremonial task, the sold-out home crowd chanted the familiar “USA! USA!”
As the cleanup continued at “Ground Zero,” George W. Bush became the first American president to open an Olympic Games.
“On behalf of a proud, determined, and grateful nation,” said Bush, “I declare open the Games of Salt Lake City, celebrating the Olympic Winter Games.”
Gold medalist Kelly Clark (C) celebrates her halfpipe win with sliver medalist Doriane Vidal of France (L) and bronze medalist Fabienne Reuteler of Switzerland (R) during the Olympic Winter Games Salt Lake City 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
In total, American athletes won 10 gold medals in Salt Lake City, a U.S. record for the Winter Games that still stands. Team USA’s 34 total medals was also a Winter Games record at the time, though it was surpassed by the 2010 U.S. team that won 37 medals in Vancouver.
Among those gold medalists was Kelly Clark in the women’s halfpipe, making her the first U.S. athlete to win gold in any snowboarding event. The win began an era of American dominance in the discipline that Chloe Kim is looking to extend in Beijing. The medal was also the first of three Clark would earn in five Olympic Winter Games appearances. She never finished worse than fourth in halfpipe before retiring in 2019 at age 35.
Two-woman bobsled team Jill Bakken (L) and Vonetta Flowers (R) celebrate their gold medals during the Olympic Winter Games Salt Lake City 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Women’s bobsled made its Olympic debut at Salt Lake City, and the underdog American duo of Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers took full advantage of the opportunity.
Not even considered the top U.S. team, Bakken and Flowers dug in and bested two heavily favored German sleds to win the gold medal. In the process, they became the first American medalists in bobsled in 46 years. Flowers also became the first Black athlete to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics.
Three American flags are raised as medals are awarded to Americans Ross Powers, Danny Kass and Thomas Golden during the Olympic Winter Games Salt Lake City 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The 1-2-3 finish was snowboard's first U.S. medal sweep at the Olympic Winter Games since 1956.
Four years after snowboarding had made its Olympic debut, Americans Ross Powers (gold), Danny Kass (silver) and J.J. Thomas (bronze) swept the podium in men’s halfpipe. The performance marked the first U.S. medal sweep in a Winter Olympic event in 46 years and helped establish snowboarding as a mainstream sport in this country.
Apolo Anton Ohno skates in the men's 5000-meter semi-final qualifying heats during the Olympic Winter Games Salt Lake City 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Apolo Anton Ohno burst onto the short track speedskating scene at the 2002 Winter Games. With his flowing brown hair and signature bandana and goatee, Ohno captivated the home fans in winning a gold medal in the men’s 1,500-meters and a silver medal in the 1,000-meters. Over three Winter Olympics, he went on to claim eight medals, the most ever by a U.S. athlete in the Winter Games.
Joe Howard celebrates after winning he gold medal sled hockey match between the USA and Norway during the Paralympic Winter Games Salt Lake City 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Team USA clearly felt at home during the 2002 Paralympic Winter Games, collecting 43 total medals to lead all nations. The Americans earned 10 gold medals, 22 silver medals and 11 bronze medals. Germany finished second on the medals table with 33.
These were the Games that the U.S. sled hockey program became the gold standard in the sport. The Americans won their first gold medal in the sport while competing on home ice. It began a stretch of four gold medals in five Games that the team will look to extend in Beijing. The U.S. also won a bronze medal in 2006. Since 2009, the U.S. has also claimed five world championship gold medals.
Sarah Will on her way to gold in the women's LW11 super-G during the during the Paralympic Winter Games Salt Lake City 2002 in Ogden, Utah.
Para alpine skier Sarah Will proved dominant in the women’s events in Salt Lake City. She claimed gold medals in the downhill, slalom, giant slalom and super-G in her fourth and final Paralympic Games, bringing her total to 13 — 12 gold medals and a silver. Will was inducted to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame in 2009.
Chris Waddell on his way to silver in the LW10 class of the mens downhill during the Paralympic Winter Games Salt Lake City 2002 in Ogden, Utah.
Chris Waddell, another U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Famer, called it a career after the Salt Lake City Games. The Para alpine skier went out in style, winning a silver medal and a pair of bronze medals after joining Muffy Davis in lighting the Paralympic cauldron during the Opening Ceremony. A seven-time Paralympian, Waddell won 13 Paralympic medals in alpine skiing and track and field.
Bob Reinert spent 17 years writing sports for The Boston Globe. He also served as a sports information director at Saint Anselm College and Phillips Exeter Academy. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.