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Hundreds gather at Utah Olympic Park to cheer on athletes in Beijing

Olympics Watch Party
Ben Lasseter
Hundreds of people gathered at the Utah Olympic Park for an Olympics watch party Thursday night.

Spirits in Park City were high in support of Olympic competitors in Beijing Thursday night, where the town also celebrated its own Olympic legacy.

On the 20-year anniversary of three American snowboarders sweeping the podium at the 2002 games in Utah, hundreds gathered at Utah Olympic Park. Wearing gear from the 2002 games, longtime Parkite Marion Boland was part of a spirited crowd watching the big screen.

“We are so excited to be here tonight - to feel the Olympic spirit,” she said.

Park City Ski and Snowboard hosted the event, where community members, including former Olympians, watched events including women’s super-G alpine and men’s snowboarding halfpipe final.

They saw three-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White wrap up his legendary snowboarding career with a fourth-place finish.

They also cheered the runs by his fellow Americans and competitors like Ayumu Hirano, who took the halfpipe gold. Boland said her Team USA hat and Team Canada mittens reflected what the Olympics mean to her - supporting athletes from around the world as they compete on the biggest stage.

“I’m pulling for everybody that works hard," said Boland. "That is the spirit of the Olympics.”

Many youngsters in the crowd were local up-and-comers. Park City Ski and Snowboard Alpine Director Thomas Eckfeldt said some of his athletes were looking up to the skiers they saw on screen.

“There’s quite a few that are aspiring to do something like this in the future," Eckfeldt said. "They want to go as far as they can, and it’s places like this within our community like the Olympic park that actually make it happen.”

With the gold medal he won for Team USA in Vancouver in 2010 around his chest, former Nordic combined skier Bill Demong highlighted the Park City impact.

“The legacy in Utah is probably the best in the world, hands-down," he said. "I love winter sport, I love Park City, and I love the Utah Olympic legacy.”

Park City Ski and Snowboard Executive Director Christie Hind said the town still has “Olympic fever” that has only grown since the 2002 games. She attributed that to the community staying involved.

“We are standing at a site that in 2002 could have become like what will, sadly, become of many of the sites in Beijing, torn down two weeks from now," said Hind. "But Colin Hilton and the Legacy Foundation made these venues living legacies. Kids train here every single day.”

Hilton, CEO and President of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, said he wasn’t surprised to see a big turnout at the party. He said winter sport is Park City’s identity, and Parkites are just supporting their neighbors.

“We see them in the grocery stores, we know their training regimens, and that small-town sense of community is only enhanced when we have the spotlight of the Olympics showcasing some of our high achievers,” Hilton said.

Near the end of the night, former Olympian in cross-country and General Manager of the Soldier Hollow Nordic Center Luke Bodensteiner encouraged people to attend the youth and junior biathlon world championships starting February 21, the day after the Olympics end. The event will bring athletes from more than 30 countries to compete at Soldier Hollow in the Heber Valley, another 2002 Olympics site.