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With quick response, Utah shows it’s serious about Games

With quick response, Utah shows it’s serious about Games

By Ben Fischer, Staff Writer

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Salt Lake City has kept venues like its bobsled track in working order since the 2002 Olympics.
GETTY IMAGES
Late afternoon on Oct. 13, U.S. Olympic Committee chair Larry Probst said his board was seriously considering a bid for the 2026 Winter Games.

Just one business day later, some of the most powerful people in Utah announced they had formed an official exploratory committee and set a Feb. 1 deadline for a recommendation. The next day, the Utah legislative auditor published fresh estimates on some of the capital expenditures that would be required.

The rapid-fire scaling up of the Utah Olympics industry was designed to signal to the USOC, International Olympic Committee and potential domestic competitors that Salt Lake City is serious about hosting, and can do it with minimal drama and expense. It also had been planned years in advance.

The day before Probst spoke, 2002 Salt Lake Games COO Fraser Bullock and Jeff Robbins, CEO of the Utah Sports Commission, checked with political leaders. They verified they were all systems go — if the USOC said anything. Probst delivered.

“We said, that’s our green light,” Bullock said. “We’re going to have a press conference on Thursday afternoon.”

But then on Sunday, the time frame sped up even more when voters in Innsbruck, Austria, defeated a possible bid.

“Then we said, wow, it’s a very thin field,” Bullock said. “We’d better say something now that’s positive toward hosting.”

Salt Lake City Exploratory Committee

Wayne Niederhauser, Utah State Senate president
Jeff Robbins, Utah Sports Commission CEO
Fraser Bullock, 2002 Games COO and managing partner, Sorenson Capital
Mike Plant, president/development, Atlanta Braves; president, U.S. Speedskating
Dexter Paine, U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association chairman

Note: Additional members were to be announced Oct. 19.
And the committee was announced Monday, Oct. 16.

In 2012, the last time the U.S. was seriously considering a winter bid, Gov. Gary Herbert and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker declared the region “ready, willing and able” to host when called upon. Three years later, the legislature approved a resolution requiring the state to be ready if called.

To be certain, the Winter Olympics discussion is still highly unpredictable. Probst himself said waiting until 2030 would probably make more sense for the U.S., given that a ’26 Winter Games would compete for revenue and attention with the confirmed 2028 Los Angeles Summer Games.

But with so few viable cities throwing their hats in the ring, the IOC is radically overhauling the process. It’s a distinct possibility, the USOC believes, that the IOC will award 2026 and 2030 simultaneously, as it recently did with the 2024 and ’28 Summer Games, and a ’26 bid might be a prerequisite to being considered.

It’s also possible Salt Lake City could win ’26 by default. Most observers believe that other possible European bids would face a challenging referendum like Innsbruck. Sion, Switzerland; Calgary; and Sapporo, Japan, have also debated bids. Denver and Reno-Tahoe also reportedly have shown an interest, but neither city has Utah’s existing infrastructure.

Under the current plan, the USOC must choose a domestic candidate by March 31.

The new audit identified $39.3 million in capital improvements needed to bring the sports venues currently owned by the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation up to world sport standards. Notably, that does not include other improvements required by the IOC that would run higher.

Under the IOC’s current plan for choosing a host, bid cities must submit their formal paperwork by January 2019, with an IOC vote scheduled for July 2019.


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