With the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games in full gear, people across the world are rooting for the athletes of their countries to bring home some medals. Since 1924, the Winter Olympics have been an extension of the international bonding laid down by the older summer games. In the close to 100 years that the Winter Olympics have taken place, the United States has hosted four times. Two of these times have been in Lake Placid, New York, and the other in Squaw Valley, California. Most recently the U.S. hosted in 2002 when the games took place in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is during these games when Wasatch Mountain State Park became the first U.S. state park to host Winter Olympic competitions!
More specifically, it was in the southeastern-most part of the 21,592 acre park where the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) designed and built the Soldier Hollow venue. It was named this for the close proximity of the venue to Soldier Springs, Utah. Utah Olympic Park and Utah Olympic Oval were the two other major venues during the 2002 games.
Wasatch Mountain State Park became a state park in 1968. Prior to this, it was mainly the site of farming, grazing, and recreational activities. One dark period was during the Utah War in 1857-1858, when U.S. troops were sent to deal with a supposed “Mormon Uprising”. This is what Soldier Springs was named for. While the SLOC had several other sites in mind in 1997, it settled on the Soldier Hollow site to host a portion of the Olympic Games due to its accommodating landscape for specific events like cross-country skiing. Major construction began in 1999 and was finished in 2001. Then, it was time for the games to begin!
Soldier Hollow hosted the biathlon (cross-country and shooting), cross-country skiing, and Nordic combined (cross-country and ski jumping) events during the 2002 games. Since it was about 2 1/2 hours away from downtown Salt Lake City, shuttle transportation had to be provided. Also, a special station for the historic Heber Valley Railroad Steam-Engines was created to cut down on road traffic. A whole exhibition and village area called Western Experience was created to keep people entertained in between competitions with music and entertainment, cowboy camps, American Indian displays, a wild mustang exhibit, and the always essential concession stands.
Finland and Norway would go on to have excellent showings at Soldier Hollow. A big winner was Samppa Lajunen, a Combined Nordic competitor who brought three gold medals home to Finland in 2002. Another highlight was Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen bringing home gold in all four men’s biathlete events.There were also many exciting gold medal victories during the 2002 games, including Australia becoming the first country in the Southern Hemisphere to ever win Winter Olympic gold medals in any competition. These competitions were men’s Speed Skating (Steven Bradbury) and women’s Aerials (Alisa Camplin). China also won its first and second gold medals ever in Winter Olympics history, both in short speed skating by Yang Yang. The Canadian men’s hockey team earned their first gold medal in 50 years by defeating the U.S. team, 5-2. The Women’s Bobsled Event made its debut, and the awesomely named Skeleton event returned as a medal sport for the first time since 1948. Recently introduced Olympic Snowboarding and other extreme sporting events took a firm hold in spectator popularity, with the U.S. competitors Ross Powers, Danny Kass, and Jarret Thomas sweeping the podium in snowboarding. U.S. competitor Sarah Hughes also had a big gold medal win in figure skating.
These days Soldier Hollow is a resort where cross-country skiing, tubing, and snowshoeing are popular activities during the winter, while mountain biking and golfing are the major attractions in the warmer months. It is owned by the state of Utah and is a part of Wasatch Mountain State Park. Soldier Hollow Charter School is also located there.One thing that can always be anticipated every four years is the unpredictability of the Olympic games. From triumphs to upsets, amazing career beginnings to career-shattering scandal, and the fact that history is being made every time makes it a crucial event to the unity of the world. What an honor it was that a simple state park like Wasatch Mountain State Park got to host Olympic competitions. Who knows—maybe a state park near you may be hosting some Olympic events in the near future!
For more information about Wasatch Mountain State Park and Soldier Hollow, check out the Pocket Ranger® app here!