Mitt and the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City


Mitt and Ann Romney at the Salt Lake Olympics Reunion (AP Photo)

On this tenth anniversary of the successful turnaround of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, Rick Santorum has joined the Democrats in belittling the role that Mitt played in that tremendous effort. I have to say that I have nothing but contempt for those in and out of politics who now try to take away from the role he played in helping bring success to the Winter Games in Salt Lake. Those of us who live in Utah can remember the mess that things were before he arrived, and we are extremely grateful for the eventual success of that effort. Any other outcome would have been a disaster for our state as well as for the country. Of course, Mitt has always been quick to say that it was a team effort that helped the Salt Lake organization achieve what it did. As anyone knows, however, a team requires a leader, and leading is something Mitt knows how to do very well!

I contacted Bob Ligget, a friend of, for his reaction to these comments by Rick Santorum and the Democrats as well as various members of the press. Bob is CEO of Corporate Pulse Consulting and worked for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the Olympic Winter Games of 2002 with the title of Manager, Leadership and Service Training. In that role he oversaw the training of thousands of staff members and volunteers and could see close up the impact of Mitt’s leadership during the incredible turnaround effort required by that iteration of the Games.

Mitt arrived at the Salt Lake Olympics at exactly the right time with exactly what the Games needed. The previous leadership team deserves credit (with others) for getting the Games to Salt Lake, but when the so-called “scandal” broke, they were not equipped to take the Games any further.

Much has been said of Mitt’s experience in turning companies around and SLOC was an organization that needed new direction. No one was better prepared. As a management consultant, I deal a lot in leadership issues and Mitt was a textbook case in how to do everything right. He set a new vision, he communicated that vision wherever and whenever he could to the SLOC staff, and we would have followed him to the gates of hell had he asked us to.

Mitt created a leadership team to operationalize the vision, and it was one without peer, starting with Fraser Bullock. Mitt never let anyone forget that despite the bad press, insanely intense work, and even 9-11, we were involved in something meaningful and significant to the entire world, not just Salt Lake City. Mitt’s schedule had him away from headquarters a lot, but he tried to connect with us whenever and however he could when around. He was relentlessly optimistic and on-message and that influenced staff attitude when the pressure was on. And the pressure was always on!

Did he have political ambitions after the Games? Sure. So what? The Olympics is a temporary job, and just like the rest of us he needed to be looking ahead. I don’t know of one colleague who didn’t think working for the Olympics would be a resume-enhancer. That in no way diminishes the full-bore talent and skill Mitt brought to the Games, and while he is the first to credit our amazing volunteers for the success achieved, Mitt made the leadership difference.

Game, set and match!

One key detail not mentioned in Bob’s comments is the fact that Mitt refused a salary for his role in Salt Lake; indeed, he and Ann even donated $1 million of their own money to the effort! With those gestures he set a wonderful example, thus leading the way for other donors and sponsors who needed to be reassured that the Games would be a success.

He is also being criticized for soliciting Federal funding, something that has always been in every country that hosts the Olympics. Santorum cites a story by Kirk Johnson that appeared in the New York Times, September 19, 2007, “In Olympics Success, Romney Found New Edge,” which stated that the “Salt Lake Games required $50 million more in constant dollars than was spent for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.” What does Santorum not understand about the extra security requirements that came as a result of 9/11? The kicker in all of this is that Santorum voted for all of the appropriations for the Olympics for which he now calls out Mitt! (Note: CNN incorrectly stated in their article that the Games “occurred a year after the Sept. 11 attacks,” when in fact they took place 5 months later. The country was very much in the throes of the aftermath and worried about the security of the athletes and all those who were to attend the Games.)

The bottom line in this story is that everything that Mitt accomplished suggests incredible leadership skills, of which this country sorely needs so much in these difficult times.

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About Mike

Michael Bush first met Mitt in 1966 when they reported for a one-week training session in Salt Lake City before heading to France on the 4th of July to serve as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 2 1/2 years. They also served at the same time in Bordeaux for several months in 1968, where they worked together quite often. Mike is on the faculty of Brigham Young University and grew up in Alabama. He graduated from Brigham Young University in Political Science. He also has an MBA from the University of Missouri and a PhD from The Ohio State University in Foreign Language Education with an emphasis in Computer Science. He is a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel who spent most of his career at the US Air Force Academy teaching French and doing research in the area of computer-assisted language learning. He and his wife Annie have four children and 18 grandchildren. It goes without saying that the things written on this site reflect his views and opinions and are in no way intended to reflect those of Brigham Young University or its sponsor, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

One thought on “Mitt and the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City

  1. Pingback: Mitt’s Olympic Leadership from Someone Who Knows | Mitt: The Man

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