Sarah Hirshland, the CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, paused in the middle of her congratulatory speech Friday to the Utahns behind Salt Lake City’s bid for another Winter Games, too emotional to speak.
With Los Angeles hosting the 2028 Summer Games and Salt Lake City now the preferred host for the 2034 Winter Games, next year will “kick off a decade of sport in this country that has never been seen before,” she started to explain before her eyes filled with tears.
“You guys did that,” she said, after collecting herself, as members of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games gathered in a room atop the University of Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium tower broke out in applause.
“Seriously, that’s incredible. Ten years in which this country will be the center of the sporting world and it gives us the opportunity to lead in a way we’ve never led before,” Hirshland said. “So thank you for putting us in that position. ... We’re going to kill it together.”
She told the community, political and athlete leaders on the bid committee that there is no place “better suited to do this than this one. We see it. The (International Olympic Committee) sees it. The world knows it. Everyone from around the world is fired up to come back here.”
The IOC’s decision Wednesday to advance Salt Lake City to the next stage of the bid process, known as targeted dialogue, won’t be a done deal until a vote set for next July, just before the start of the 2024 Summer Games in Paris.
Fraser Bullock, the bid committee’s president and CEO, said he’s hopeful that will come on July 24, Pioneer Day in Utah. Between now and then, there’s contracts to negotiate, paperwork to submit and a visit by IOC evaluators.
“But they already know us,” he assured the members of the bid committee. “They’ve already seen our work and so we are highly confident this will go extremely well and extremely smoothly.”
The brief bid committee meeting quickly turned into a celebration, with a ceremonial signing of a statement thanking the IOC by Gov. Spencer Cox; Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall; the bid committee chair, Catherine Raney Norman; as well as Hirshland and Bullock.
Olympic pins declaring Salt Lake City, Utah, as “aspiring to host the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games 2034” and blue baseball caps emblazoned, “SLC-UT 2034” were passed out with the suggestion that bid merchandise will soon be sold.
Then the bid committee joined several hundred Utahns assembled outside the stadium to see the re-lighting of the Olympic cauldron that glowed throughout the 2002 Winter Games after being ignited during the Opening Ceremonies.
The governor thanked the crowd for its enthusiasm.
“The world needs us more than ever. There’s so much division and hate in the world,” Cox said, describing the Olympic spirit as about “bringing people together. It’s what we do best in Utah and we can’t wait to unify the world right here in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2034,”
Bullock, who served as chief operating officer of the 2002 Olympics, also thanked “Team Utah” for its support, saying it was key to the success of the bid. A Deseret News-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll in February found that more than 80% of Utahns back hosting again.
“We roll differently in Utah. Some call it the Utah way. We are kind, collaborative and welcoming,” Bullock said, quoting from the message he and other members of the bid team delivered to the IOC.
The cauldron relighting, held on a chilly night ahead of a predicted snowstorm, featured Olympic medalists from 2002 and every Winter Games since as well as the “future stars” training in Utah at facilities set to be re-used in 2034.
The cauldron didn’t light immediately at the end of the crowd’s first countdown, but then illuminated the dark sky to cheers, as many of the fans, families and others at the event snapped selfies.