The 2002 Winter Olympic Games, officially the 19th Winter Olympics, were steeped in controversy long before they started due to the murky dealings preceding its selection at host, then due to its financial struggles.

An accounting in The National Review estimates the total payoffs in the neighborhood of $1.3 million. The scandal led to resignations[ from many official of the Salt Lake City Olympic Organizing Committee (SLOOC), the group responsible for preparing the Olympic Games. Much more importantly, it chilled relations with the corporate sponsors who are essential to the funding of the Olympics.

When Mitt Romney chose to run for the governorship of Massachusetts in 2000, it was largely on the strength of his experience with the Olympic Games. The biography on his presidential campaign website largely continues this appeal, saying in part:

Romney first gained national recognition for his role in turning around the 2002 Winter Olympics. With the 2002 Games mired in controversy and facing a financial crisis, Romney left behind a successful career as an entrepreneur to take over as President and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee...
In his three years at the helm in Salt Lake, Romney erased a $379 million operating deficit, organized 23,000 volunteers, galvanized community spirit and oversaw an unprecedented security mobilization just months after the September 11th attacks, leading to one of the most successful Olympics in our country's history.


Organizing large numbers of volunteers and "galvanizing community spirit" are part and parcel of hosting an Olympics. Unique to Mitt Romney's claim is the erasure of this deficit. The spending deficit was a very real concern, and many accounts tout his bringing in of private money to bring the Games back into the black.

However, former Salt Lake City Tribune publisher Jack Gallivan disputes the significance of Romney's role, crediting revenue from television contracts negotiated before Romney's arrival in starting the turnaround. Given that the Salt Lake City Olympics were the most expensive Olympic Games ever held to that point -- triple the cost of the 1984 Summer Olympic Games that established the template for American-organized Olympics.

Given that Romney failed to hold down expenses, it was rather government bailouts that saved the SLOOC. In the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the bottom line-busting security budget was rescued by the Bush White House. Romney's nicking of $80 million was dwarfed by an unprecedented federal involvement with Olympic funding.

Though previous recent Olympics had been organized in Atlanta and Los Angeles without significant government largesse, Mitt Romney was bailed out by fellow Republican George W. Bush. A $300 million grant spun as a security provision -- a gift from the US treasury -- outpaced any of Romney's efforts to affect the bottom line.