PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — In the 15 years since Utah hosted the 2002 Winter Games, officials with the Utah Sports Commission have attended every Olympics in an effort to keep the state’s Olympic legacy alive and evolving.
In Pyeongchang, South Korea, however, officials had something more substantial to offer than letting the world’s elite teams know Utah is a great place to train and hold events.
They had an exploratory committee report that offers specifics on how and when Utah could host another Winter Olympics.
“We’ve always taken a delegation to the Games since Torino,” said Utah Sports Commission CEO Jeff Robbins, who traveled with several members of the exploratory committee to Pyeongchang this week. “We’ve always had the message that we’re ready, willing and able to host another Games, and that’s still the message we’re delivering here. In fact, in the past it’s been that we’re ready, willing and able to handle events that are independent of the Games, too, like a lot of the evens we’ve hosted in Utah. …But now we have a little bit more clear messaging with the report from the exploratory committee. We have a lot of details like budges, and stuff we certainly didn’t have available in the past.”
The exploratory committee not only sends a message to the USOC and IOC that Utah is serious about hosting another Winter Olympics, it offers concrete details about how they could be hosted as soon as 2026.
That report said the budget for hosting the Games again would be slightly more than $1.35 billion, which is less than the 2002 Olympics because so much of the facilities and infrastructure not only already exist, but have been maintained and, in some cases, upgraded.
It’s also significantly less than the last few host cities have spent, with Sochi being the most expensive at more than $50 billion. Pyeongchang officials reported spending about $12.9 billion on the 2018 Olympics.
Robbins traveled to Pyeongchang with members of the exploratory committee, and their goal was to let officials know what Utah could offer, but also to learn and exchange ideas with other Olympic organizing committees.
“We’ve visited a lot of places, talked to a lot of people, and our reception has been good,” said Robbins, who was in South Korea for about a week. “There was such a good impression left by our Games. People certainly have fond memories, and they know the Games were successful. Interestingly, a lot of them know the different things we’ve been doing in sport to keep our legacy alive.”
The Sports Commission was created for the 2002 Olympic effort, in hopes that the state would be able to capitalize on hosting the Winter Games, recouping the money invested, which is something many Olympic cities haven’t done.
Part of Utah’s success has been attracting U.S. Ski and Snowboard and U.S. Speedskating to relocate to Utah and work together to maximize the facilities built for the Games. Some of those officials were involved in the visit by the Utah delegation as they both gave information about what the state can offer, as well as tried to learn from how Pyeongchang organized and operated the 2018 Olympics.
“It’s always interesting and fun to learn about what other host cities are doing, how facilities are operating and what venues are doing,” he said. “It’s kind of been a little bit of an education. They’re very, very nice. The Venues seem to be very well run.”
He said there really isn’t anything Utah officials wish they’d done differently, from logistics to food to venue security.
“When we look back, there aren’t many of these ‘a-ha! moments,'" he said. “I think we did things really, really well. so there aren’t major things we could have done better.”
Salt Lake didn’t have the struggles some host cities have had with ticket sales or lack of volunteers.
In fact, the coats the Salt Lake organizers gave volunteers can still be seen at winter sporting events in Utah, and most athletes say it is one of their favorite places to train or compete because of the support they get from the community.
Most of the Sports Commission’s focus has been making sure Utah’s facilities are just utilized but that they become an integral part of U.S. Olympic efforts.
That means attracting world-class sporting events like next year’s 2019 freestyle World Championships at Deer Valley. It will be the third time the Park City resort has hosted the World Championships.
In Pyeongchang, the group tried to attend as many events as possible and tour as many venues as possible.
“The Olympics is so fun because there are so many different cultural experiences,” he said. “It’s interesting to see how people in different cultures receive the Games, how they host it, and every time it is unique. That’s what makes it fun to have it in different places, is that everyone has their own way of doing it.”
As for whether or not Salt Lake has a legitimate shot at hosting a second Winter Games, he said that’s not completely up to Utah officials.
“We control what we control,” Robbins said. “We control making sure the venues are in great shape, we make sure we’re hosting major sporting events, and we make sure people know what we can offer. But we don’t control whether the USOC puts a bid city forward in 2026. The best thing we can do is be prepared, should the opportunity arise. …I absolutely think we could do it, and I think we can do it as well as it’s been done anywhere in the world.” The USOC will need to decide by March 26 if they will offer a U.S. option to the IOC for the 2026 Olympics. While Utah officials have said they’d prefer hosting in 2030, they’ve also said they’re ‘ready, willing and able’ to host in 2026 if it’s an option.
“There are lots of other bid cities out there, but none are as ready as we are today,” Robbins said. “I think we could absolutely do it again, and I think we could do a great job.”