What’s the ‘good story’ Utah’s Olympic bidders will tell IOC inspectors in town this week?
Race for 2030 Winter Games may be down to Salt Lake City, Sapporo, observers say
When the International Olympic Committee’s trio of technical experts inspect Utah’s proposed 2030 or 2034 Winter Games venues this week as part of the bid process, they’ll be shown how the facilities have continued to be used since the state last hosted the Olympics two decades ago as well as a likely new competition site.
But no last-minute efforts are underway to spruce up the 2002 Winter Games venues before the three-day visit, set to start Wednesday, said Colin Hilton, president and CEO of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation that oversees the Utah Olympic Park near Park City, the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns and the Soldier Hollow Nordic Center in Midway.
“Honestly, (it’s) our normal getting ready for the change of seasons. We’re not doing anything hugely different than we normally do. We’re not asking any of the venues to put a coat of paint on before the visit,” Hilton said, focusing instead on showcasing year-round training and recreational uses.
So the IOC inspectors will see the the Olympic Park’s training pool, where elite athletes training in the summer land after launching off a big air jump, as well as tons of dirt piled up for a monster truck show in what would once again be the site of the Games’ opening and closing ceremonies, the University of Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Backers of bringing the Olympics to Utah for a second time are hoping such images will help set their bid apart from other competitors for the 2030 Winter Games — Sapporo, Japan; Vancouver, Canada; and Barcelona, Spain and the nearby Pyrenees mountain region — because the new bid process encourages sustainable development.
While Utah has never stopped hosting major skiing, speedskating and other winter sports competitions, Hilton said the state’s Olympic legacy is best explained after the snow and ice are gone, when the facilities are even busier, thanks to innovations like the pool, plastic grass and airbags.
“That’s where a lot of the training and learning happens for athletes,” he said, adding that “having these facilities being maintained at world class levels and serving as a pipeline for athletes to develop in is really a good story,” along with wheeled bobsled rides and other public attractions that generate needed revenues for maintenance.
It’s “quite frankly, what 20 years since our last Games has allowed us to figure out,” Hilton said. “We’re a living, breathing example of those uses that actually helps groups like the IOC point to, as I put it, a living legacy of active uses of facilities, not just for a one-off sporting event, but for everyday uses within communities.”
The only new competition site in the mix is the Mayflower Mountain Resort being developed on the site of a long-shuttered mine adjacent to Deer Valley, which hosted the freestyle moguls and aerials and alpine slalom events in 2002.
With 40% more events to plan for than in 2002, bidders are still deciding where some Alpine and freestyle skiing as well as snowboarding competitions will go. Besides the new resort set to start opening next winter, ski runs built at the Olympic Park for training could also be used.
Some venues, like Rice-Eccles Stadium and what was then the Delta Center, have undergone major renovations and expansions since 2002. Others also have more to offer, such as the U. student housing that served as the Olympic Village for athletes, which has added a massive student center complete with a four-story climbing wall.
The approach taken by Utah’s bid for a $2.2 billion Winter Games plays into the Switzerland-based IOC’s “new norm,” a series of reforms intended to control the costs of bidding and hosting an Olympics that came as a result of struggles in recent years to find cities willing to take on the massive expense.
Seven years ago, the IOC was left with only two options for the 2022 Winter Games, Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Beijing, after more popular picks like Stockholm dropped out of the running. Beijing, host of the 2008 Summer Games, was seen as the “safe choice” despite China’s lack of progress on human rights issues.
This time around, though, the field is more competitive.
The lone upstart, Ukraine, has had to set aside aspirations to become the Alps of Eastern Europe because of Russia’s invasion. All of the other cities have previously held an Olympics — Winter Games for Sapporo in 1972 and for Vancouver in 2010, and the 1992 Summer Games for Barcelona.
Olympic watchers point to Sapporo and Salt Lake City as the top contenders.
“The momentum does certainly feel with the Salt Lake City and Sapporo bids at this stage of the process,” insidethegames.biz senior reporter Michael Pavitt recently wrote, citing infighting over where events would be located for Barcelona’s bid and balking over holding a referendum on hosting again in Vancouver.
Sapporo, meanwhile, claims 110,000 supporters have formed a group backing its bid and has published a plan that uses only existing venues, including the bobsled, skeleton and luge track used for the 1998 Winter Games held in Nagano, which the IOC had selected over Salt Lake City in an earlier bid.
Will IOC choose sites for two Winter Games at the same time?
Pavitt said “it looks as though the IOC could have a couple of strong candidates to choose from,” so the possibility the IOC would award both the 2030 and 2034 Winter Games at the same time “surely cannot be ruled out,” especially since the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee has stayed open to Salt Lake City bidding for 2034.
That’s because Los Angeles has the 2028 Summer Games, and the USOPC has been trying to work out a way to profitably host back-to-back Olympics in the United States. When the Colorado Springs-based organization chose Salt Lake City over Denver in December 2018 to bid, it was for an unspecified Winter Games.
Mark Conrad, director of the sports program at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business in New York City, said the IOC is likely eager to award two Winter Games at the same time after the controversies surrounding Beijing.
Those included a diplomatic boycott by the U.S. and other nations pushed by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the leader of the 2002 Winter Games, to protest China’s treatment of religious and ethnic minorities as well as political dissidents.
Conrad, who also sees Sapporo and Salt Lake City as the front-runners, told the Deseret News a dual award would allow the IOC to avoid being in a situation again for some time where members would be forced to decide to “hold our noses” and pick a problematic city like Beijing “just to have an Olympics.”
“They clearly had to be burned and embarrassed. Officials didn’t come,” he said, including from the United States, although the boycott did not affect athlete participation. “It was an armed camp. People didn’t like it, even without COVID. ... Let’s call it what it is. China is a police state.”
COVID-19, of course, caused the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo to be postponed for a year. The extra expense associated with the delay, combined with reduced revenues due to the pandemic still raging last summer means the IOC now “kind of owes” Japan, Conrad said.
Sapporo also stepped up to host the delayed 2020 Summer Games marathon when concerns were raised about the extreme heat anticipated in Tokyo, another “good chip in their favor” with the IOC, he said, combined with a strong bid that’s “trying to be somewhat creative” by utilizing Nagano’s sliding track.
Conrad said in a dual bid, the IOC may tap Sapporo for 2030 and Salt Lake City for 2034, although it could go either way. While there’s no timeline for a decision, USOPC leaders have suggested the field could be narrowed down in the coming months, with a final vote by the IOC coming in 2023.
Sapporo might be first in line for a Winter Games because, Conrad said, “I would think the memories of helping out the IOC would be clearer.” Plus, he said having both the 2028 and 2030 Olympics in the same country could turn off viewers as well as corporate sponsors, while “some could say the U.S. is hogging it.”
Rewarding past Olympics hosts, particularly two at the same time, could be a sign of things to come. While there has long been talk of someday rotating the Olympics between a handful of pre-selected cities, in effect, returning to previous picks has a similar impact.
“I think we may be seeing a future model,” Conrad said, “And it could be a very effective model.”
Bid process speeding up
Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games behind the bid, declined to comment on the competition.
“I only talk about us. I applaud any city that steps forward to host the Games because it takes a lot for a community to come together to do something so significant,” said Bullock, who was Romney’s No. 2 at the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Winter Games.
The IOC’s technical review committee is expected to stay out of the spotlight during its three days in Utah. Other cities bidding for the Winter Games will also receive similar inspections, although the schedule has not been made public.
A delegation from Utah and the USOPC is scheduled to travel to the IOC’s headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, in June for their first in-person meeting about the bid. A meeting set for last December had to be held virtually due to the pandemic.
Bullock said Utah bidders are also heading in June to the site of the 2026 Winter Games, Milan-Cortina, Italy, along with other bid cities for a debriefing with Beijing’s Olympic organizers. Plans for the bid cities to observe the 2022 Games in person were canceled at the last minute due to China’s strict COVID-19 policies.
“As we’ve been saying all along, once the Games were concluded in Tokyo and Beijing, things really accelerate. And we’ve been prepared for that. We’ve been doing a tremendous amount of work. And now we get to show that work,” he said. “This is what was expected and we’re ready for it.”