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Tom Welch is a hero for his work on the 2002 Winter Olympics

Tuesday , February 13, 2018 - 4:00 AM

ROBERT HUNTER, special to the Standard-Examiner

Tom Welch was kicked around the justice system for five years before Federal Judge David Sam finally dismissed the case against him, apologized on behalf of the U.S. Justice System and castigated federal prosecutors. The accused had faced federal charges on six counts that could have amounted to 65 years in prison.

In fact, he should have been called an Olympic hero. It was he, more than any other single person, who was responsible for bringing the 2002 Olympic Winter Games to Utah.

Tom Welch attended Ogden High School, served as student body president at Weber State University and earned a degree from George Washington University Law School. Upon his return to Utah, he became the first in-house attorney, vice president and general counsel for the fledgling Smith’s Food and Drug. Welch was the principal officer who took the company to the New York Stock Exchange. That single action created more overnight millionaires in Utah than at any previous time.

Meanwhile, as Smith’s Food and Drug was growing, so was Utah’s appetite for the Olympics. In 1985, acknowledging Tom’s leadership and persuasive personality, Gov. Norm Bangerter and Salt Lake Mayor Ted Wilson asked Welch to head another fledgling organization — an entity that was soon known as the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the Olympic Winter Games. Bids for the 1992, 1994 and 1998 Games had been awarded to other countries.

The Salt Lake group understood that just giving away cowboy hats and embossed pencils wasn’t enough. The local committee had already begun to plan and build winter sports venues, to encourage athletes and sports organizations to move to Utah for training and to demonstrate to the United States Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee that we were serious about our bid to host the Games.

Additionally, the committee attempted a strong effort to improve international cultural understanding by bringing IOC families to Utah and hosting them here. These guests began to warm to Utah’s spectacular outdoors and equally spectacular hospitality. Those who chose not to visit were visited in their own countries by Tom Welch — carrying a sample of “the greatest snow on earth” in a cooler.

Tom and his wife were tireless in their campaign efforts all around the world, often missing their children’s birthdays and special occasions, in order to help Utah’s cause abroad. They had not anticipated spending a decade of their lives focused on this goal. But that’s what it took.

Sophisticated gifts and hosting were offered at the same level as had been observed in campaigns by previous Olympic countries. It seemed to be the norm.

Following a concentrated 10-year effort, success was ours — in June 1995, Salt Lake City was given the nod, in an overwhelming IOC vote, to host the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. It had been, and would continue to be, a huge initiative of local institutions, financial supporters and thousands of dedicated volunteers — all under the enthusiastic leadership of Tom Welch.

Subsequent to Utah’s selection, accusations began to arise that Welch and his vice president had been bribing IOC members and misusing funds, all without the knowledge of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee’s Board of Trustees and public officials. This was not true.

But some heroes emerged. One was Kem Gardner, a Utah developer and philanthropist who brought Mitt Romney to town. Mitt returned a smile to the face of the Olympics. He did his job — and he excelled. However, Welch had overseen the substantial construction and funding of the Olympics before leaving his post.

Kem Gardner performed another compassionate act. When the Olympic Committee had completely ignored Welch’s work, even to the point of not offering him admission to the games, it was Kem who said, “C’mon Tom. I’ve got some tickets for you.”

Another hero was Bret Millburn, current Davis County commissioner, who had taken and preserved massive numbers of photos, proving the involvement of numerous public officials in gifting to IOC members. This evidence gave cause for Judge Sam to dismiss all charges.

Finally, Utah’s dedicated volunteers must take their place on the podium beside Tom Welch for their gold-medal performance, giving the Utah Olympics the label of “greatest Games ever.”

Is Tom perfect? Nope. He’s a human with human flaws. But he’s never been adequately honored for his and his family’s sacrifice to bring us the Olympics, to bring recognition to our beautiful state and to bring a long-lasting surge to our vigorous economy — making Utah “swifter, higher, stronger.”

Robert Hunter is director of the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service and political science instructor at Weber State University. Ezekiel Lee, a Walker Institute intern, contributed to this column.

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