Salt Lake City, 2002
After running the successful Winter Games in Utah, Romney was seen as a white knight for saving what had been a scandal-plagued event. He then turned his attention back to Massachusetts and began laying the groundwork for his gubernatorial race.
Romney arrived at the summer Games as Democrats back in Massachusetts began complaining that the governor was too often out of state and uninterested in his job. Romney countered that his attendance was required and that staying at home would have been an insult to International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge. On his three-day visit, Romney also visited with George H.W. Bush on a private yacht, sat down for interviews with national media, and became the first recipient of a new award established by supporters of the Olympics. When asked by the Globe if he would run for governor in 2006, Romney had three answers (first saying, "Absolutely," before amending to "no final decision" had been made, and then settling on, "The expectation is to run again.")
Entering the final year of his term as governor, Romney and his wife, Ann, headed to Italy for the opening ceremonies and took part in the Olympic torch relay. They took in figure skating, short-track speedskating, and women's freestyle moguls. They sat behind first lady Laura Bush and her daughter Barbara for one event.
While at the Games, Romney took in a women's beach volleyball game and noticed that people were taking his picture. "I said, 'Ann, sit up straight, look they're all taking our picture,'" Romney later recounted. "And she goes like this, and I turn around. And there's Kobe Bryant sitting right behind me." Romney was also spotted shaking hands with President George W. Bush at a swimming event. Before the Games, Romney urged Chinese officials to reconsider their decision to revoke the visa of Joey Cheek, a former speedskater and human rights activist who had been planning to attend the Olympics to draw attention to the ethnic conflict in Sudan's Darfur region. Romney wrote a letter to top Chinese government officials and the Chinese Olympic committee president, reminding them of the help he offered in its bid for the Games and unsuccessfully urging them to give Cheek a visa.
While leaving the Games, Romney got into an altercation with hip-hop singer Sky Blu of the rap group LMFAO. Romney had asked the rapper, who was sitting in front of his wife, Ann, to raise his seat during takeoff after he had reclined it. There were differing accounts over who got physical first. Romney said he didn't retaliate; Sky Blu said Romney "grabbed my shoulder, and I was like, boom, get off me" (he also referred to Romney's move as a "Vulcan grip"). The Air Canada flight, bound for Los Angeles, returned to the gate and the rapper was removed from the plane by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Romney is planning to attend the Opening Ceremonies and is then likely to embark on a trip to Israel to meet with dignitaries. Romney also has another distinction this year: a horse in the race. The horse that Ann Romney is a part-owner of, Rafalca, is competing in the dressage competition.