Salt Lake City, UT, Oct. 11, 2000--It was like old times! Olympic champion Eric Bergoust, swarmed by young kids, signing autographs and showing off his Olympic gold medal. And with less than 500 days to go before the opening of the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, it represented somewhat of a changing of the guard.
Bergoust was among a group of athletes gathered at the Utah governor's mansion to welcome newly crowned Olympic champions Natalie Williams (basketball) of Salt Lake City, and Rulon Gardner (Greco-Roman wrestling) of nearby Wyoming. And while Williams and Gardner had their share of spotlight, Bergoust and mogul skier Michelle Roark had their share of fun, too.
Officially the ceremony was to kickoff a new musical education program sponsored by Utah Governor Mike Leavitt, with over 100 local school children gathered for a small mini-concert. But Gardner stole the show, coming on-stage and grabbing the governor in a bear hug-just like the one which won him the Olympic gold!
"This is great, I love the kids," said Bergoust, as he signed autograph after autograph. In many ways it brought back memories of Bergoust's moment in the sun 2-1/2 years ago when he returned to a hero's welcome from Nagano. And it had to buoy his spirits and give him the motivation to do it again in just over 15 months.
For Roark it was an introduction to the power of the Olympic medals. Roark wasn't on the 1998 Nagano team, but she burst onto the scene a year later winning the dual moguls World Cup title. She had a chance to talk to the athletes about chasing their dreams. "If you have a dream, you can achieve it. You need to work hard and manage your time."
Bergoust told the youngsters about a trip he made to Russia over 10 years ago. "I remember how old and crude everything was, including their weights in the weightroom. But it didn't bother them. They just worked hard and appreciated what they had. From that day on I told myself that I was not going to be lazy, that I was going to work hard to achieve my goals."
Bergoust and his aerial teammates are in their final summer camp and hope to be on-snow soon. Similarly, Roark and the mogul team are looking forward to the first week of November when they hope to be on-snow in Colorado.