By  on February 14, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY -- Maybe it's all the security wands at checkpoints and the soldiers on the mountains that are making this Olympic crowd so ready for more freedom and personal style.

A bashful teenage girl steals the gold with some in-your-face snowboarding, a somewhat quiet Canadian company makes shoppers clamor for American merchandise, Olympic fans are patted down so they can cheer in peace for their favorite athletes, helicopters buzz above ski resorts and stone-faced policemen in yellow Marker ski jackets wave on the underwhelming crowds.

Welcome to the Winter Games, Salt Lake City style.

But in the end, the experience is all about performance, whether it be for an athlete, a product, a brand or even a security team. Even Donna de Varona, a seasoned Olympic commentator and on-site consultant for U.S. Olympic Committee president Sandy Baldwin, said, "This is the Olympics -- it used to be this without the fences. You stand in these security lines and think, 'I'll never do this again,' and then you see a tremendous performance by an athlete and it all makes sense."

Not everything adds up, though. Consider some of the taped greetings airing at various venues. While Claudia Schiffer's suggestion to downhill skiing spectators to try to stay warm melted some men in the crowd, others fell flat. Alex Tribec and Sylvester Stallone just don't signal winter sports.

Others took their presence more seriously. Olympic gymnast Bart Conner was candid about his and his wife Nadia Comaneci's motive for being here for the duration: "Corporate schmoozing."

Willy Bogner was among the execs hanging out at the Games who said the Olympics provide a testing ground for performance pieces, a checkup on current trends, glimpses of product innovation and a chance to see how people enjoy themselves.

Descente, a $600 million Japanese performance label outfitting a handful of skiing, speedskating and ski-jumping teams with their revolutionary styles, set up a gallery in Park City to let visitors test drive their Olympic goods.

"For us, it is an image exhibit, designed to show the public what the future of sport will look like and what it will do," said Kathryn Johnston, manager of international.

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