An Olympic Price Tag: Salt Lake City's Tab for the 2002 Winter Games Will Reach Nearly $2 Billion. (Sports)

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Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee (SLOC), made reducing the size and cost of the Games a priority during his tenure. Of course, there's only so much one man can do.

The 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, which began Feb. 8 and run until Feb. 24, are the biggest and most expensive Winter Games ever, featuring 2,400 athletes and a price tag of $2 billion. While private sources such as TV networks will foot much of the bill, federal, state and local taxpayers will pitch in about $625 million, roughly $1 of every $3 spent.

Twice as large and nearly six times more costly than the last Winter Olympics held in the United States -- the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. -- the Utah affair represents a significant step up from the 1998 Winter Games held in Nagano, Japan, for $1.14 billion. In fact, Salt Lake City's estimated $1.93 billion budget nearly equals that of the much larger 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney (which cost $1.97 billion) and approaches the gold-medal standard of the 1996 Atlanta Games, which set an Olympic spending record of $2.4 billion.

The staggering tab -- $114 million per day, or $817,000 per athlete -- reflects the overall growth of the Winter Games, as well as higher technology and security costs. It also stems from a venerable tradition in which each Olympic city attempts to top the pomp and pageantry of the last, often through lavish perks and extravagant -- if borderline ridiculous -- opening and closing ceremonies. A quick peek inside the Salt Lake Olympic budget reveals:

* $37.6 million for ceremonies.

* More than $300 million for security, a major concern in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

* $8 million for the cauldron that will contain the Olympic flame.

* $3 million for drug testing.

* $2.1 million to field 30,000 Olympic volunteers, and $209,999 for pre- and-post-Games parties for those volunteers.

* $322,000 for chauffeur-driven cars that will ferry International Olympic Committee (IOC) members around the city.

The Olympics seldom come cheap. In 1976, Montreal almost went broke playing host to the Summer Games; Denver gave the Winter Games back to the IOC after residents balked at the tax cost. In fact, the 2002 Paralympics -- held for disabled athletes in conjunction with the Winter Games -- are themselves slightly bigger than the 1980 Games, with 1,100 athletes and 34 events.

At Lake Placid, athletes slept in a prison. At Salt Lake City, they'll stay in a $121 million Olympic Village that includes 24-hour dining, an Internet center, mail services, dry cleaning, a bank, a post office, a coffee shop, a salon and a florist. As part of their contractual obligation to the IOC, organizers must dole out $1.3 million to house IOC members, their spouses and assorted apparatchiks at Salt Lake City's Little America, a luxurious hotel featuring oversized suites and Italian marble baths.

In addition, Salt Lake City officials are spending $291 million on electronic-timing devices and a sophisticated computer system (32,000 miles of fiber-optic cable connected to 4,200 terminals) that will track and distribute event results in real time. Other expenses will include $106 million in federal transportation funds, $50 million of Paralympic-exclusive costs, a reported $1 million for weather forecasting and $500,000 in legal expenses for a pair of former SLOC officials who were indicted in a bribery and corruption scandal (the charges were later dropped).

"The costs for the Games have skyrocketed over the years" says Cindy Gillespie, vice president of federal relations for the SLOC. "We're fortunate that revenues have also increased." Indeed, television-rights fees and corporate sponsorships are covering nearly half of the Olympics' total cost, with broadcasters such as NBC shelling out $443 million and companies such as Coca-Cola contributing $544 million. …