Kelly Clark competes in the women's halfpipe final at the Olympic Winter Games Salt Lake City 2002 on Feb. 10, 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
When Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, halfpipe snowboarder Kelly Clark won a gold medal in her Olympic debut. On the other side of the country in West Dover, Vermont, an 8-year-old Devin Logan watched her hometown hero compete.
“I know we can watch [the Olympic Games] from afar,” Clark said. “But when it’s in your home country, it breaks down a little invisible barrier and really inspires the next generation like no other Olympics on foreign soil can.”
Twelve years later, Clark and Logan each won a medal at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014 — Clark in halfpipe snowboarding and Logan in slopestyle skiing. They have a chance to do the same this month.
Jeff Robbins, president and chief executive officer of the Utah Sports Commission, called home Games such as those hosted by Salt Lake City “a home-court advantage.” The more comfortable the athletes are at the event, the better they tend to perform, he said.
The better they perform, the more media coverage they get. With that attention, stars are born.
“Younger people, people that might be future Olympians, see that,” Robbins said. “They see stars. I think all those things play into inspiring a new group of athletes.”
The 2018 U.S. Olympic Team is stacked with athletes who watched the 2002 Games closely, wondering if and hoping that one day they too would represent their country at the highest level.
Here are a few of their stories.
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Ted Ligety, Alpine Skiing
When the 2002 Olympic Winter Games took place in his hometown, Ted Ligety stayed in Park City, Utah, while some of his counterparts prepared to race in the world junior championships. Ligety wasn’t on the U.S. ski team yet, but as a 17-year-old alpine racer, Ligety was chosen to be a forerunner — a self-described “test dummy” — for the slalom race.
“I was only getting to run because all their other skiers were at world juniors or other races that I didn't make,” Ligety said. “So I was only doing it because I was kind of a last resort.”
As a forerunner, Ligety received his first up-close glimpse of the Olympic atmosphere. He overheard the Olympians’ conversations as they prepared to race, and he saw stars, such as Bode Miller, run the same course he did.
“It made it all seem a little bit more achievable,” Ligety said.
Even though he was still four years out from what was eventually his first Games, Ligety became a part of the 2002 Olympic experience thanks to his course-testing responsibilities. He also attended the Opening Ceremony and the combined event as a spectator.
Ligety said he couldn’t have imagined in 2002 that four years later he would be one of the athletes competing for the United States. And he certainly wouldn’t have guessed he’d be leaving his first Games with a gold medal in the combined.
Ligety won another gold medal in Sochi, in giant slalom. Now Ligety is a four-time Olympian.
PyeongChang will mark the fifth Games that Ligety has skied down Olympic courses. The first runs he took, in 2002 as a forerunner, put it all within reach.
“It was just so cool to have those Games in my backyard and be able to take part in those and see the whole atmosphere of it,” Ligety said. “That was a huge inspiration for me.”
Devin Logan, Freestyle Skiing
For the residents of West Dover, Vermont, having one of their own win a gold medal at just 18 years old, as Clark did in 2002, was an achievement in which everyone took pride.
“That’s when I felt the Olympic excitement,” Logan said.
Logan remembers her hometown celebrating Clark’s win for weeks and even years. Banners commemorating Clark’s performance still hang in the local training center at Mount Snow Academy. They offered daily motivation for the young Logan.
“It’s something I always looked to growing up,” she said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, she did it. She’s from this mountain. I can do it too.’”
Not only did Logan get to compete alongside her idol at the 2014 Olympics, but over the years she and Clark became great friends. Their families have come to know each other, and Logan’s family often spends time at the Clark family restaurant, TC’s Restaurant, Logan said.
Logan and Clark look back at the unique circumstances that brought their friendship to fruition, laughing about how “there must be something in the water [in West Dover].”
“Now being on tour with her, we like to joke about it,” Logan said. “It’s cool to have your idol, meet her and then now we get to hang out and we’re friends… It’s pretty wild how things like that can turn out.”
Nick Cunningham, Bobsled
When three-time Olympic bobsledder Nick Cunningham, watched the 2002 Opening Ceremony on TV, there was one American on whom he focused.
It wasn’t Jill Bakken or Vonetta Flowers, the U.S. bobsledders who would win gold at that Games. In fact, this person wasn’t a bobsledder at all.
It wasn’t short track speedskater Apolo Ohno or figure skater Sarah Hughes. This person wasn’t even an athlete.
This person did appear in the spotlight, but it was when he took to the stands that Cunningham, a 16-year-old at the time, truly realized what the Salt Lake Olympic Games meant to his country.
“I remember very, very vividly George Bush in the stands with the athletes,” he said. “That’s the first thing that comes to my mind.”
With the Games held just a few months after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the image made Cunningham realize the Olympic Games’ power to bring a nation together. Regardless if you were watching from home, in person as a spectator, as a first-time Olympian, seasoned veteran or even as the leader of the nation, in that moment, everyone was just an American.
It was then, years before he was even thinking about bobsledding, that he recognized how much of a team that Team USA really is.
“When you’re walking into that Opening (Ceremony), nobody has a name on their back,” Cunningham said. “You won’t see one name. You won’t see one person of status. We’re all the exact same for these next two weeks.”
Zachary Donohue, Figure Skating
As an 11-year-old, only a year into his skating career at the time of the Salt Lake Games, Zachary Donohue was captivated by skating icons such as 2002 men’s champion Alexei Yagudin and ice dance champions Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat gliding across the TV screen. He first started to recognize individual jumps and lifts and pondered what a career in skating might be like.
Just a few years later, he had the opportunity to meet his idols on the ice when they visited his rink in Simsbury, Connecticut. Donohue even trained with Yagudin, who helped him learn four of his triple jumps.
“I think it was at that moment that I met him, which was like the highlight of my life, and then also at the same time Marina and Gwendal, when they came to the rink in Simsbury, where I was training at the time…just to watch them train the way elite athletes train, I think that was the moment when I went from being some recreational, casual skater to thinking, ‘OK, I want to go somewhere with this,’” said Donohue, who won the U.S. title last month with ice dance partner Madison Hubbell.
John Shuster, Curling
On a December day in 2001, tickets went on sale at 8 a.m. CT. John Shuster called from Minnesota at 7:55 a.m.
“Sorry, you'll have to call back at 8 a.m.,” the employee on the other line told him.
Shuster asked to be placed on hold until 8 a.m., and the employee obliged.
“I will never forget this, because that's how we ended up going to the Olympics,” said Shuster, who has curled in every Games since 2006 and qualified for the PyeongChang Games when he won the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in November.
Shuster and his parents claimed tickets to freestyle aerials prelims. At the Games, Shuster’s family also watched several curling matches, short track speedskating and doubles luge.
Shuster remembers standing next to the luge track and the sound of the athletes sliding past. His family then moved to the finishing area. U.S. sleds won the silver and bronze medals, and Shuster stood 10 feet away from Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin when they realized they had finished second.
“Being there for that,” Shuster said, “was something that — I'm getting goosebumps telling you the story right now — because that's one of those things that can fuel somebody for an extremely long period of time.”Emily Giambalvo and Cat Hendrick are students in the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. They will be part of TeamUSA.org’s coverage team for the PyeongChang Games.