By Thurgood Marshall Jr. and Stephen B. Bull
The Salt Lake Olympic and Paralympic Games were a tremendous success by any measure. The athletic competitions showcased the very best of the world's athletes performing consistently with the Olympic ideal, and Utah provided a picture-perfect postcard backdrop for the occasion.
Although the Games may seem effortless, hosting the equivalent of multiple Super Bowls over the course of a fortnight of consecutive days in a winter community is an immense undertaking even under the best of conditions. Recent criticism of Mitt Romney's leadership of the Salt Lake effort by political opponents misses the mark. It overlooks the unprecedented challenges that he overcame and the significant risk that he faced. We saw that on a daily basis.
Extraordinary fundraising, sponsorships and organization are essential when it comes to organizing a successful Olympic event. The challenge demands a full tilt and indefatigable effort on the part of the local Olympic committee and its leadership. Working in the favor of organizers are the strategies derived from previous Games which can present a high bar for subsequent organizers to clear but also include countless best practices as a helpful guide.
But that is no guarantee of success, and it did not address the severe planning disruptions that confronted the Salt Lake effort. Mitt Romney took the helm of the Salt Lake organizing committee in 1999 with those standard supports and challenges present. But because of the Salt Lake bid scandal, he took on those challenges with the knowledge that he would need to confront them without the team that had laid the groundwork and with a severely depleted reservoir of goodwill. The Olympic bid scandal caused nearly the entire leadership of the organizing committee to be summarily ejected from their posts. Romney arrived to find a disheartened and rudderless shell of an organization. Vital financial sponsorships that were the result of months of nurturing in a positive climate were threatening to withdraw support if they had not already abandoned the cause.
To be sure, Romney was far from alone in this effort. The U.S. Olympic Committee and its international counterpart all stepped up their involvement. And, of course, Romney gathered and led a huge volunteer contingent that augmented his full-time staff.
Romney quickly took stock of the situation and began an immediate effort to stem the hemorrhaging of staff morale and financial support. Even in the absence of those who were responsible for the bid scandal misdeeds, the taint on the Salt Lake Games during that period posed a daunting challenge. Romney's perseverance paid off but not without scores of rejections. He was undaunted throughout and proved himself more than willing to take on every task large or small, to the point of directing traffic at a major competition to resolve an unexpected snarl.
Addressing the issue of federal government skepticism and reluctance to serve in the traditional role of an Olympic Organizing Committee partner, Romney met with congressional and executive branch leaders in Washington. He brought them back into a productive partnership.
As the Games approached and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee effort reached a crescendo in 2001, the Sept. 11 attacks brought an entirely new and unprecedented set of difficulties. Detailed implementation and game-day plans that had evolved over months and years needed to be revamped in order to establish additional layers of security without visiting undue disruption on competitors, spectators and press - all in the few short months that already promised to be very demanding.
Romney met all of these challenges with relentless skill and energy, and he deserves immense credit for what was declared to be the most successful Olympic Winter Games ever.
Thurgood Marshall Jr. chaired the White House Olympic Task Force for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Stephen B. Bull worked as the United States Olympic Committee's representative in Washington. They wrote this for the Tampa Bay Times.