Olympic Diary: A Sunny Beginning to the Games

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After enduring bribery scandals and terror-proofing, Salt Lake City is ready for these Olympics to get under way. The signs are everywhere. The Salt Lake Tribune headlines ("At Last!" and "It's Here!") belie a state of unbridled enthusiasm tinged by a sense of relief that the magic moment has finally arrived. Olympic volunteers clustering around the press venues are very nearly hysterical with good-natured excitement. As the tow-headed teenager behind the counter of a downtown coffeehouse put it as he handed over a tray of coffees, "Dude, I'm so totally stoked this is actually happening! Dude!"

His city shares the sentiment: every street sign, lamppost, bus and taxi is bedecked in official logos; billboards have been raised just to welcome the hordes of interlopers who will take over this city for the next 16 days. At the airport, the arrivals area is stuffed with "Welcome" signs and banners, multi-lingual greetings and beaming IOC representatives.

That benevolence, it's worth mentioning, has come not just from Olympic employees but from the general public — a trait, those with previous SLC experience assure me, in evidence at all times in this sunny city. Walking downtown, volunteers and locals alike smile, wave and shout greetings at us as if we'd done something truly remarkable.

Meanwhile, the streets are filling with athletes, family members and anyone who wants to look like an athlete or family member, all wearing colorful high-tech jackets. Standing at a stoplight, it's hard not to appreciate the violent color clash between a group of red-clad Chinese team members and athletes wearing the sunrise-orange U.S. team jacket, all sprinting across the street to beat the light.

None of us have been approached by any Mormons bent on spreading the word. Granted, it's only been 24 hours since my arrival, but if current trends hold, it seems there will be precious few conversions here over the next two weeks. Gordon Hinckley, the current head of the Church of Latter Day Saints, happily seems to have a healthy sense of humor about the stereotypes surrounding his religion, but he also seems quite keen to prove one thing: Even evangelism can take a holiday — especially when the Winter Games are in town.