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'This is wow’: Salt Lake able to participate in 2026 Winter Games bidding process

FILE - Fireworks explode during closing Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympic Games Closing ceremonies Sunday, Feb 24, 2002 at the Rice-Eccles Stadium.
FILE - Fireworks explode during closing Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympic Games Closing ceremonies Sunday, Feb 24, 2002 at the Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City's hopes of hosting another Winter Games won't have to be put on hold now that the United States Olympic Committee has apparently agreed to participate in the bid process for 2026.

"This is wow. This is what we've been working on for a couple of years," Fraser Bullock, a leader of the state's Olympic Exploratory Committee and the former 2002 Winter Games chief operating officer, told the Deseret News Wednesday.

Bullock said the USOC has formally notified the International Olympic Committee that American cities interested in hosting an upcoming Winter Games can participate in a new bid process.

That process could lead to the IOC awarding both the 2026 and 2030 Winter Games at the same time, meaning an American city would have to be in the race for 2026 to be considered for 2030.

The decision comes just before the IOC's March 31 deadline for hearing from national Olympic committees. Cities already expressing interest in 2026 include Sion, Switzerland; Calgary, Canada; Stockholm, Sweden; and Sapporo, Japan.

Two other American cities — Denver and the Reno-Tahoe area — are also expected to compete. The IOC is set to narrow the field this fall, and make a final selection in September 2019.

The USOC is focused on an American city winning the bid for the 2030 Winter Games, not 2026, because Los Angeles is hosting the 2028 Summer Games and has locked up domestic sponsorships through that date.

"Obviously, anything can happen, but we respect the wishes of the USOC to focus on 2030," Bullock said. "If nobody else bids for 2026, then there would have to be a discussion."

The state's Olympic Exploratory Committee — which includes Gov. Gary Herbert, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, and other elected officials, community leaders and Olympic athletes — recommended another bidin February.

The committee produced a hefty report showing Salt Lake City could host another Winter Games for just over $1.35 billion, a smaller price tag than for 2002 because Utah already has built and continues to maintain costly sports facilities.

The report anticipates a $63 million profit from a future Olympics to help pay for the bobsled, luge and skeleton track, ski jumps, speed skating oval and other facilities, as well as promoting winter sports training and competitions.

During the 2018 Utah Legislature, lawmakers approved a resolution declaring Utah "ready, willing and able" to host another Olympics and created a new fund to cover the nearly $40 million cost of readying the facilities.

Salt Lake City is far ahead of its competition because of the detailed report and other activities, Bullock said. He said Wednesday's news is the result of a "good collaboration" with the USOC over the past several months.

The USOC's decision follows the 2018 Winter Games in Pyongchang, South Korea, where the American team won fewer medals than expected, and also follows a sex abuse scandal involving the team doctor for USA Gymnastics.

The head of the USOC, Scott Blackmun, resigned at the end of February, and a search is underway for a permanent replacement.

Bullock said appreciates that the USOC "had the foresight to see the importance of hosting in 2030, and to be able to bring focus to that in a time when so many elements are grabbing their attention."

He said his message for Utahns who want to see another Olympics is: "We’re thrilled because we have a pathway forward. This is exactly what we were hoping would happen."