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Romney looks ahead, back in Olympics visit

At Turin, governor recalls '02 success

TURIN, Italy -- A lot has happened in the four years since Mitt Romney got credit for pulling the Salt Lake City Olympics from the brink of disaster.

For one, he is nearing the end of his first and only term as governor of Massachusetts. For another, he is considering a run for president.

But some things have not changed, such as basking in the revelry of another Olympics.

As Romney and his wife, Ann, make the most of a long weekend in Italy, they say the fond memories left behind of the turnaround he oversaw of the 2002 Winter Games are never too far from people's memories.

It probably doesn't hurt that the Romneys have brought with them the US team's official jackets from those Salt Lake City games.

They're black leather Harley-Davidson-style jackets with USA stitched on the back, and they're the coats that the thousands of volunteers wore.

''People flag us down everywhere" when they recognize the jackets, Ann Romney said yesterday.

The Romneys are spending a long weekend in Italy, having taken in Friday's opening ceremony for the Turin Games, rubbing elbows with first lady Laura Bush and her daughter Barbara, and also former Olympians Dorothy Hamill, Kerri Strug, Eric Heiden, Debi Thomas, and Herschel Walker.

They have taken in figure skating and women's freestyle moguls. The latter event left them in awe at the skill it takes to negotiate each bump and twist.

The Romneys also are rooting on another Olympian: Derek Parra, the 2002 gold medalist in speedskating's 1,500-meter event, who stays in their Utah home.

Does the governor hope people remember his role in turning around the bribery-tainted 2002 Games?

Well, Romney said, he is not one to deal in hypotheticals, and he will not hazard a guess as to what it would mean for his political future. But he knows it has helped him in his political past.

The drawbacks of being a career businessman before he ran and won the 2002 race for governor were the doubts among voters that he could handle the world of politics. The games, he said, showed him to be a ''person with a heart, with compassion."

Two years ago, at the Athens Olympics, Romney was honored for his work in Salt Lake City by becoming the first recipient of the Truce Ideal Award.

Yesterday, it was Romney's turn to hand out the awards. This year's recipients were: President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria; President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia; Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini of Italy; and Peter Ueberroth, the US Olympic Committee chairman.

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