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Games Saver, continued

Playing It Safe

Interviewed in his office in late October, Romney had spent the previous day responding to inquiries about an International Olympic Committee official who was quoted as saying that a country at war should not host the Olympics. The official said he was misquoted, spoke to Romney, offered unqualified support for the Salt Lake City Games. But the questions still lingered, as they had since September 11: Would the Games go on? Should the Games go on?

"I think it's going to be clear that some people will not want to proceed with the Games," said Romney. "There will be some people who consider the financial considerations and are concerned financially. There will be others who think about political implications and may want to withdraw for some reason. But I think when you consider the sacrifices made by the athletes who get ready for an Olympic Games and the years of training and coaching and the expense they take on, as well as the personal sacrifice they make, you have to proceed with the Olympic Games if it's at all possible."

Every athlete he spoke with urged him to do whatever was necessary to hold the Games, Romney said. Jacques Rogge, International Olympic Committee president, predicted in November that not a single athlete would opt out of competition. "Mitt Romney and the Salt Lake City organizers . . . have done a superb job to ensure the athletes will be well served and provided with the optimum chances to perform at their best," Rogge said during a National Press Club speech.

Romney and Rogge sent letters to every national Olympic committee to reassure athletes that their safety will be a priority. They have pledged the same vigilance for spectators. The security plan, coordinated by the Secret Service, calls for 7,000 law enforcement personnel to monitor threats from the ground and from the air. Romney displays poster of Olympic pinThey will search everyone who enters an Olympic venue and everyone who enters a six-block area of downtown Salt Lake City, which will be fenced in for the Games.

There is no evidence that terrorists will target the Olympics, an event that encompasses the world and not just its host country, Romney said. And while no one claims that handling an influx of more than 200,000 people will be easy, it is more straightforward--particularly if enough money is devoted to public safety--than protecting an entire country at war and at risk. Shortly after the terrorist attacks, Romney traveled to Washington to meet with lawmakers and Bush administration officials, who promised an additional $40 million for security. The total bill for security now stands at more than $300 million, an extraordinary sum, he said, for 17 days of events in one relatively small community.

"I don't think there will be another event in the world that will be as thoroughly protected as this one," said Romney. "This will break all records, in terms of funding for security and the provision of personnel and equipment to assure the public. So I feel as good as you can feel in America these days."

Romney personally thanked President Bush (who is scheduled to attend opening ceremonies on February 8) for his support of the Salt Lake City Olympics during a meeting in late November. The two were classmates at Harvard Business School. But in graduate school Romney seemed the more likely candidate to someday occupy the White House.

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