Salt Lake City is closer than ever to hosting another Olympics.

Utah is the only contender to host the 2034 Winter Games after the International Olympic Committee Executive Board advanced the bid to the next stage of the new, less formal selection process on Wednesday.

A bid from France for the 2030 Winter Games was also moved into what the IOC calls targeted dialogue, where the details of a future Olympics including a host contract are negotiated.

A final vote on the hosts of the 2030 and 2034 Winter Games is expected next July, when the full membership of the Switzerland-based IOC meets ahead of the 2024 Summer Games in Paris.

The news was celebrated with a huge cheer from a crowd gathered on the steps of the Salt Lake City-County Building by bid officials, including Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games.

“Guess what? We’re ready, we can push the send button tomorrow. Ready, willing and able,” Bullock said after the IOC announced the decision in a news conference that was streamed on big screens set up beneath the historic building’s east entrance.

Gov. Spencer Cox spoke of what another Olympics in Utah can offer a world “in chaos,” and referred to the success of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, adding, “we know how to do this. We know how to welcome people who are different than us.”

The governor said “it was the overwhelming support of Utahns that made this possible,” and that while he believes hosting in 2002 “changed the state of Utah forever in so many positive ways, we now have an opportunity to change the Olympics Games forever.”

Newly reelected Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said it’s “so beautiful” that today’s school children may be competing in an Olympics in their home state in 2034 thanks to the ability to learn winter sports at the 2002 venues.

“We are so ready for this,” the mayor said, adding, “we are about to lock it in.”

The other two bids for 2030, from Switzerland and Sweden, were also addressed by the IOC. Switzerland was moved to a new, “privileged” bid status for the 2038 Winter Games and Sweden, once seen as a frontrunner, will remain in talks to host in the future.

Salt Lake City bid to host in 2030 or 2034, with a preference for the later date to avoid competing for domestic sponsorships with the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles. But Utah has been seen as a back-up, if the 2030 bids fall through.

Bullock doesn’t see that as a possibility.

“We’re dialed in only on 2034. We’re highly confident in the French. They’re doing a fabulous job preparing for Paris and we celebrate their invitation as well as our invitation. But we’re very confident 2034 is in our future,” he told the Deseret News.

And the IOC’s Olympic Games executive director, Christophe Dubi, said the decision Wednesday to advance France’s bid means IOC leaders trust the French government will “deliver undoubtedly all the required guarantees.”

Dubi praised Salt Lake City’s “incredibly strong” bid, saying all the necessary guarantees for another Olympics are already in place.

“In Salt Lake City, we have had a partner for three years now and they’ve been incredibly patient, incredibly thorough and were able to rally everyone behind what is a superb project,” he said.

Karl Stoss, the Austrian IOC member who heads the organization’s Future Host Commission for the Winter Games, said both France and Salt Lake City still have work to do before the final vote.

He set an end of February deadline for submitting needed paperwork, and a March deadline for government guarantees — nearly all of which Salt Lake City’s bid team has already wrapped up — with plans to visit the French Alps and Salt Lake City in April.

The Future Host Commission will finalize recommendations by May, and make a report to the Executive Board in June, but Stoss seemed to suggest the decision has all but been made if France and Salt Lake City complete the needed submissions.

“If the homework is done, the bid will come to the IOC session and there will be he final decision,” Stoss declared at one point during a news conference. Still, he later was careful to say that “maybe” France and the U.S. would host the 2030 and 2034 Winter Games.

Koss said the positives for Salt Lake City’s bid are “the vision to build on the legacies of 2002 and create a future for venues” as well as a “very compact master plan” that includes a single Athletes Village at the University of Utah and “no capital investment required.”

He also citied the “exceptional public support,” measured at more than 80% earlier this year in a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll, as well as “the highest level of national, state and city government support.”

Both Dubi and Koss highlighted the backing from government leaders for another Olympics in Utah. Dubi cited Cox and Mendenhall, who participated in a virtual presentation to the IOC last week on Election Day, and Koss named President Joe Biden.

The history of Salt Lake City’s bid for another Olympics

The effort to bring the Olympics back to Salt Lake City, site of the 2002 Games, has been underway for more than a decade. Five years ago, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee named the Utah capital the nation’s choice for a future Winter Games.

Former Gov. Gary Herbert, who launched the bid effort in 2011 with an exploratory committee, was among those celebrating with hot chocolate and coffee at the Salt Lake City-County Building despite Wednesday’s freezing temperatures.

“We showed we can host the world in 2002. I think we’ll do an even better job in 2034,” he said, calling another Olympics an opportunity to show Utah is “not just the crossroads of the West anymore. We really are the crossroads of the world.”

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who led the 2002 Winter Games, offered his congratulations for Salt Lake City being on track to host again, saying in a video it’s his “dear hope that we’re going to have the same kind of transformation that we experienced in 2002 again in 2034.”

The bid calls for spending what will now be more than $2.2 billion raised from private sources including the sale of sponsorships, broadcast rights and tickets on a Winter Games utilizing the same venues as 2002.

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A year ago, the IOC Executive Board was expected to decide whether Salt Lake City; Sapporo, Japan; or Vancouver, Canada, should advance under the new, less formal bid process that doesn’t specify a timeline.

Instead, the IOC leaders delayed making a pick and announced a study on the impact of climate change on Winter Games that could eventually lead to rotating the event every four years among pre-selected sites.

That encouraged new bids while both Sapporo and Vancouver struggled with support. When IOC members received an update on the 2030 and 2034 bids in October, neither Japan nor Canada was mentioned.

The IOC also agreed in October to allow the 2030 and 2034 Winter Games to be awarded at the same time although IOC President Thomas Bach pointedly told reporters that didn’t mean it had to happen.

How the IOC’s new bid process works

The IOC explained how the latest phase of the bid process works in a series of posts Tuesday on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying, “Criteria like environmental, socio-economic, and human rights impacts are evaluated.”

Bidders move from being “interested parties” to “preferred hosts” by being able to “articulate the ‘why’ of their Games project. It means the vision and community benefits,” judged by the “principle: The Games should adapt to the host, not the host to the Games.”

And, the IOC posts continued, “Strong public and political support is crucial. Interested Parties must demonstrate this, adhering to their country’s laws and political culture. Budgets must be balanced.”

Under the new bid process, the IOC posted that “an ‘Interested Party’ becomes ‘Preferred Host’ for an edition. No other city or region can apply until the IOC Executive Board has decided if there should be an election.”

The new phase of bidding is a “thorough process” that the IOC posts concluded “can lead to a host election, and does not mean saying ‘no’ to other parties for future Games consideration.”