What a Difference a Candidacy Makes

Mitt Romney speaks about the 2002 Winter Games at a press conference in Salt Lake City. i i

Salt Lake Organizing Committee head Mitt Romney speaks about 2002 Winter Games at a press conference in Salt Lake City, Jan. 16, 2002. Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Getty Images
Mitt Romney speaks about the 2002 Winter Games at a press conference in Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake Organizing Committee head Mitt Romney speaks about 2002 Winter Games at a press conference in Salt Lake City, Jan. 16, 2002.

Getty Images

When Mitt Romney appeared at the Winter Olympics this weekend, it seemed like the return of the prodigal son. The Massachusetts governor was sought out by reporters and mingled with First Lady Laura Bush and some of America's most famous Olympians.

Romney is widely credited with rescuing the scandal-plagued effort to organize the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. A venture capitalist and Mormon with strong Utah ties, Romney was put at the head of the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee as it struggled with state, federal and Olympic investigations into allegations of bribery. The Games went off without any serious problems and the organizing committee was left with money in the bank. Romney rode his Olympic success to political success back home in Massachusetts.

But two years ago, at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Romney and his wife Ann were left wondering where all the love went, at least when they first arrived. I found them in a series of lines in the International Olympic Committee's headquarters hotel, forlorn and frustrated, but joking about their plight. After an overnight flight, the Romneys found they had no place to stay. The Athens Organizing Committee had somehow neglected to reserve a room. They spent several hours, Romney told me, trying to sort out the oversight. Finally, the U.S. Olympic Committee offered space. After getting some rest, Romney was formally honored for his Salt Lake City Olympic work.

So, what are the biggest differences between then and now? In Athens, Romney was a Winter Olympic dignitary in a Summer Olympic city. And since then, he's become much more than a governor and former Olympic host. He may run for president of the United States. Certainly, no Turin Olympics organizer or Italian government official would want to risk offending someone who might be president when the next Winter Games come around.

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