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Salt Lake 2026? Another Winter Olympics looking more likely

SALT LAKE CITY — Could there be another Olympics in Salt Lake City in less than a decade?

With Los Angeles set to be awarded the 2028 Summer Games by the International Olympic Committee on Wednesday, longtime supporters of bringing another Winter Games to Salt Lake City say it could happen as soon as 2026.

"It makes total sense," Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said, citing the city's success hosting the 2002 Winter Games. "I know that, as a city, it is in our hearts and minds how amazing that event was, and we would welcome another Olympics."

Fraser Bullock, the chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games, said while there is nothing official yet, "there have always been informal discussions going on for the past several years."

Salt Lake started looking seriously in 2012 at bidding again for the Olympics, but the U.S. Olympic Committee has been focused on securing a Summer Games for the United States.

An ususual decision by the IOC to award two consecutive Summer Games at the same time — to Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028 — opens the door for a future Winter Games bid by the U.S.

Salt Lake, though, isn't the only American city interested.

Denver Sports Commission Executive Director Matthew Payne said Denver is "very well positioned should the opportunity arise, and we would welcome an invitation to discuss what it would take for Denver to become a Winter Olympic host city."

Denver had that opportunity before, after being chosen by the IOC to host the 1976 Winter Games. But Colorado voters rejected a bond issue needed to pay for the event, and the city had to give the Games back.

Bullock suggested Salt Lake City doesn't have much to worry about.

"I doubt Denver would be able to really put together a successful bid just because of the infrastructure that's required," he said. "It would be very difficult to compete against Salt Lake, particularly these days where cities appropriately are hypersensitive to costs and particularly taxpayer funds."

In Utah, the ski jumps, bobsled, luge and skeleton track, speed-skating oval and other venues built for the 2002 Games are being maintained with Olympic profits and are regularly used for training and major competitions.

What could hurt Salt Lake City's chances for the next Winter Games to be awarded is the proximity to a Summer Games in the U.S. in 2028, as well as what's seen as a likely FIFA World Cup soccer competition in North America in 2026.

"I think '26 can be a challenge," Bullock said, especially if there would be competition for sponsorship dollars from the World Cup. "It's challenging from an economic point of view. (2030) is a little bit easier from that perspective."

Also in the mix is Innsbruck, Austria, where voters will decide in an Oct. 15 referendum whether a bid for 2026 goes forward. Innsbruck hosted the Olympics in 1964 and took over for Denver in 1976.

With voter backing, Bullock said Innsbruck "would likely be the favorite for '26. If the referendum fails and there are no other viable candidates, then Salt Lake could enter the discussion."

The 2015 Utah Legislature passed a resolution declaring that Utah "will stand 'ready, willing and able' to welcome the world back" for another Olympics. That hasn't changed, the resolution's sponsor, Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said.

"We can do it better than anyone else in the world," Adams said, calling himself "cautiously optimistic" about the 2026 Games. "I think it's a great opportunity for the state of Utah, obviously. It was in the past, and I think it will be in the future."

Adams said he expects lawmakers to discuss another Olympic bid in the 2018 Legislature that begins meeting in late January, and he believes it would "find great support by most of my legislative colleagues."

Biskupski said Utahns will embrace another Olympics, too.

"People who are here really valued that opportunity not only to host, but to engage the world," the mayor said. "It was a very exciting time, and the community here left that experience with great appreciation for the opportunity."

She said the support from the community, which included some 22,000 volunteers, was a big part of what was widely seen by Olympic leaders and others as the best-ever Winter Games.

"The volunteer spirit here has never left, and I'm sure as people are thinking about this, they are excited," Biskupski said.

For her part, the mayor said she is "honored and more than willing to play my role" to make Salt Lake a host city again.

Bullock said that's going to happen.

"The Games will come back," he said. "It's not a matter of if. It's a matter of when."