SALT LAKE CITY — It's make or break time for another Winter Games in Salt Lake City, with the U.S. Olympic Committee now expected to name an American bid city by the end of the year.
The USOC is set to pick between Salt Lake City, Denver and the Reno-Tahoe area as this country's candidate to host an as-yet unidentified future Winter Games that could be as soon as 2030.
"This is a natural continuation of the process, to choose a city out of three by the end of the year," the Colorado Springs-based USOC's spokesman, Mark Jones, told the Deseret News Monday.
"It is a very big deal," said Fraser Bullock, the chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City and a leader of the state's current Olympic Exploratory Committee, which recommended another bid earlier this year.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said the bid process is expected include site visits next month followed by public opinion polls conducted by the USOC to gauge support for hosting an Olympics in each of the three bid cities.
The mayor said work has already been underway on another part of the process — providing additional information to the USOC about what another Winter Games in Salt Lake City would look like.
"We're just putting our heads down and doing the work," Biskupski said. She predicted Salt Lake would fare well in polling because "we have such a strong legacy that the support is there."
A poll in November 2017 found that 89 percent of Utahns wanted to bid for another Olympics.
Biskupski and Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser are leading the newly formed Salt Lake Executive Committee for the Games that is set to meet officially for the first time Tuesday with the exploratory committee.
Last month, both Biskupski and Niederhauser traveled to the USOC's Colorado Springs headquarters to lobby for another Winter Games during an annual gathering of Olympic officials.
According to the minutes of their closed meeting, USOC board members discussed then what the process would look like to narrow the U.S. field. The mayor said Salt Lake only recently received word that a decision will be made before the year ends.
But she said Utah is well-positioned in the competition to become America's choice for a future Winter Games.
"I think by far our city is light-years ahead of the other cities that are looking at this as far as venues and as far as our investment in those venues," Biskupski said, crediting the Legislature's committment to invest $40 million to upgrade them.
Niederhauser said backers of another bid anticipated waiting longer for a decision from the USOC.
"We thought we were going to be in limbo for a while. All of a sudden now we have an opportunity and we're going for it," he said. "I don't think the other cities can do what we can do in such a short time. That may be a little bit arrogant, but it's just the facts."
In February, Gov. Gary Herbert, Biskupski, legislative leaders, Olympic athletes and other members of the exploratory committee unanimously endorsed a hefty report recommending another bid.
Much of what is likely to be part the USOC questionnaire is already included in the Utah exploratory committee's 136-page report, that put the price tag for another Winter Games at just over $1.35 billion.
That's less than the cost of hosting in 2002 because the bobsled, luge and skeleton track, ski jumps, speedskating oval and other pricey venues needed for a Winter Games are already in place and continue to be maintained.
The USOC's decision comes as the International Olympic Committee is considering Calgary, Canada; Stockholm, Sweden; and the combined Italian bid of Milan and Cortina d'Ampezzo for 2026, a choice that will be made next year.
Although Salt Lake was prepared to step up for those Winter Games, the USOC stayed out of running because Los Angeles is hosting the 2028 Summer Games and has locked up domestic sponsorships through that date.
The IOC is expected to pick a host for 2030 in five years.