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Utah leaders take next step in bringing back the Olympics

But will they bid for 2030 or 2034 Winter Games?

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Catherine Raney-Norman, Olympic speedskater, left, Cindy Crane, chairwoman of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall speak after a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, where members of the new committee were announced.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah leaders took the next step in bringing another Olympics to Salt Lake City Wednesday, announcing a new committee responsible for preparing a future bid that looks increasingly like it will be for the 2034 Winter Games.

Gov. Gary Herbert and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall jointly named the new Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games in the state Capitol’s formal Gold Room. Herbert said the committee is key “to show that we continue to be ready, willing and able to play host to a future Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.”

Mendenhall said she feels “very strongly about our bid potential” and is looking forward to the opportunity to showcase the changes in Salt Lake City since 2002, including a growing population with “more diversity and vibrancy” than ever.

But still to be determined is whether that bid will be for the 2030 Winter Games, the next to be awarded by the International Olympic Committee, or for 2034. When Salt Lake City was chosen over Denver by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee more than a year ago, it was to compete for an unspecified future Winter Games.

“The bottom line is, we’ll get what we can get,” the governor told the Deseret News after the announcement.

Herbert said getting the 2030 Winter Games “might be a little more problematic, I think, timewise,” because that would follow Los Angeles hosting the 2028 Summer Games and the Olympics typically rotate between countries. There are also concerns about enough domestic sponsors for back-to-back Olympics in the United States.

“But I think we’ve got to tee it up, too. I think we have to go after 2030 and if we don’t get that, then we’ll be really positioned, I think, very well for 2034,” the governor said. He called hosting the Olympics in 2002 as “a real blessing to our state. It’s helped propel us onto the world stage.”

Mendenhall, who took office just last month, said when it comes to choosing between bidding for 2030 or 2034, her “preference is that we are absolutely confident in the financial feasibility of the Games.” She said that doesn’t rule out 2030 because there may also be monetary benefits to hosting right after another U.S. city.

“I don’t think it’s quite as simple,” Mendenhall said of determining which year is the best bet. “We know we can do a Games well. We know we want to host a Games. We absolutely need that Games to be financially successful. So that’s the only question mark.”

One of the first tasks for the newly formed committee will be to crunch the numbers for 2030 and 2034. A 2018 study put the price tag for hosting another Winter Games at just over $1.35 billion, less than it cost in 2002, because Utah already has the bobsled, skeleton and luge track, ski jumps and other costly venues.

The committee’s president and CEO, Fraser Bullock, said those numbers will have to be updated as part of “a careful analysis” of the pluses and minuses of bidding for 2030 versus 2034. Bullock, the chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games, said the formation of the committee “opens the door” to the bid process.

National Olympic committee leaders, who’ll have to give the go-ahead for a 2030 or 2034 bid, “know it’s critical now to be in this dialog. We’re meeting with them actually the next three days because they’re in town,” Bullock said, for the speedskating championships that continue through the weekend. “We’ll put together a time frame.”

What’s putting new pressure on Salt Lake City is the decision by Sapporo, Japan, to formally announce a bid for 2030. The other city currently seeking a Winter Games is Barcelona, Spain, which is teaming up with the Pyrenees mountain region, including the neighboring country of Andorra.

Because the International Olympic Committee has a new, less-structured selection process for host cities, talks are already underway about the next winter site and could result in both 2030 and 2034 being awarded at the same time, as was done for the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games.

“It’s a different dynamic,” Bullock said, and with Sapporo, host of the 1972 Winter Games, in the race, it was time for Salt Lake City to step up its efforts. “It could go quickly. We’ve got to be focused and we’ve got to make this happen.”

National committee CEO Sarah Hirshland said in a statement that “as we collectively refine our vision for a U.S. bid, and we know that when the time is right to welcome the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games back to Utah — Salt Lake City will be ready.”

The committee’s first meeting will be on Feb. 26, said the new chairwoman, Cindy Crane, the retired president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Power. Jeff Robbins, Utah Sports Commission president and CEO; and Colin Hilton, Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation president and CEO, are the vice chairmen.

Crane said the committee’s formation “demonstrates that we are prepared and we are committed for when the timing is right and will seize that opportunity.”

The governor and Salt Lake City mayor, along with House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, all will serve in honorary roles on the board of directors. More than 50 others will serve on the board and executive committee, including former NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol and many Olympians.

Wilson said 2034 is more likely “for a lot of reasons. But that’s great. We’ll take it when we can get it.” Adams said Tuesday that Salt Lake City may have to wait until then, but “we think it’s been a long time since America has had the Winter Olympics. We think we’re due.”