The image of Mitt Romney as a turnaround specialist was born and cultivated in the aftermath of his successful management of the 2002 Olympics Games in Salt Lake City.
“Sullied by scandal, on the brink of financial disaster…the Salt Lake Organizing Committee’s senior managers admitted the organization was paralyzed. But Romney had too much American patriotism to let it become a catastrophe for his country. So he accepted his biggest turnaround of his life.” This is how Romney’s experience was characterized in the inside cover of his first book.
Although it is agreed by most that Romney had managed the Olympics well, the challenges that he faced before the start of the Games were not unheard of. Most politicians have a tendency to embellish and exaggerate. For Romney, however, embellishments and exaggerations tend not to be enough; he prefers to indulge into myth making.
Before the Olympic Games were awarded to Salt Lake City in 2002, the city had been trying to lure the event for decades according to Matthew. He pointed out that Nagano (Japan) won the right to organize the Games over Salt Lake in 1998 because Nagano organizers were overly generous to the members of the International Olympic committee (IOC). To make their bid for the 2002 Olympic stronger, the Salt Lake organizers had showered OIC members with gifts and perks. After decades of trying, the city finally succeeded in his bid.
It was discovered in 1998 that the tuition fees for the daughter of an OIC member at American University had been paid by the Salt Lake Organizers. An investigation ensued. Following the investigation, the two members who were responsible for bringing the games to the city were indicted on bribery charges. However, the case was dismissed because they had not engaged in illegal activity since the giving of perks to OIC members was a well-established practice. Such practice has been a deeply entrenched tradition when nations vie for the right to organize those Games. Thus, Salt Lake City was never in jeopardy of losing the Olympic Games.
In the annals of the Olympic Games, this scandal was not a crippling challenge. In fact, other cities had to deal with far greater challenges or obstacles. For instance, although the 1968 Olympics in Mexico had been considered a great success, many people were killed, including students, ten days before the start of the event during demonstration against the government because of the money that it was spending on the Games while many Mexicans did not have enough to eat. Furthermore, an audit of the Vancouver Games that took place four years prior to the start of the event revealed that the city would incur a deficit that would be close to $2 billion. Moreover, during the 1972 Games that took place in Munich, a terrorist attack resulted in the death of 11 Israeli athletes.
According to LaPlante, as he took over the reins of the Games, Romney had at his disposal “tens of thousands of Olympic volunteers.” The Games were projected to cost $1.45 billion and he inherited a billion dollars. With Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress, he could rely on major financial support from the federal government. After taking control of the Games, the challenges facing Romney were pedestrian, particularly when compared to what other organizers had to face.
Romney did not waste any time seeking out federal assistance to cover for any budget shortfall and to pay for any other expenses to ensure that the Games were successful. The government allocated $1.5 billion for the organization of the Games. According to Tim Murphy, this federal assistance is “1.5 times the amount spent by lawmakers to support all seven Olympic Games held in the U.S. since 1904—combined." Even Senator John McCain called this huge government expenditure a “disgrace.” In fact, although Romney had chastised others for wanting “free stuff from the government,” he actually bragged about his ability to do just that. To paraphrase a popular saying, what is good for Romney is not good for others.
There is no doubt that the Utah Olympic Games were a success. Romney has used this success and the prosaic challenges-when compared to what other Olympic Organizers had to deal with- that he encountered when he took over the organization of the event to create a legend that could rival that of King Arthur. One has to wonder: What would he have said about himself if he had kept the country from plunging into a depression, captured Osama Bin Laden, enacted a landmark Health Care bill and rescued General Motors and Chrysler. Being elected to a second term would not have been enough. He would have started a campaign so that he could be placed, at the very least, on Mount Rushmore.