As U.S. Olympic Committee leaders ponder when next to pursue a Winter Games, they will know that Salt Lake City indeed, all of Utah is eager to enter the race and to show again that no big city in the world is better positioned to host the extravaganza.
Gov. Gary Herbert formalized the state's interest in returning to the Olympic spotlight Monday, saying he and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker wholeheartedly endorsed an ad hoc Olympic Exploratory Committee's recommendation that Utah should inform the USOC it is not only "ready, willing and capable" to stage the Games again, but also "the best choice."
Becker said the Exploratory Committee's "remarkably thorough" analysis of what Olympic bid and hosting processes would cost, and what resources could be mustered, "reinforced for me that we are very well positioned," even better than the city was for the highly successful 2002 Winter Games.
But, for the time being, backers of another Utah Olympics must be patient.
A USOC subcommittee is evaluating its best prospects for bringing an Olympics back to U.S. soil for the first time since 2002. Its first shot will be at the 2024 Summer Games since the U.S. earlier decided not to bid for the still-undecided 2020 Summer and 2022 Winter Games. The USOC could opt to go for just the Summer Games, or for the 2026 Winter Games first, or to bid for both a decision that former Salt Lake Organizing Committee executive Fraser Bullock said is likely to be made sometime early next year.
In February, when Utah celebrated the 10th anniversary of the 2002 Winter Olympics, Herbert assembled the Exploratory Committee of government officials, Olympic athletes and others associated with the Games. In mid-October, the committee's 36-page report said staging the Games again "would provide additional opportunities to give back to the Olympic movement, continue to promote Olympic ideals, strengthen and grow our sustainable legacies from the 2002 Games and further support sport and physical activity as key elements of city and state public health initiatives."
Herbert agreed, contending that hosting a second Olympics would solidify Salt Lake City's reputation as the country's winter sports capital. About 40 percent of the 216-member U.S. winter team trains or lives here already, he said, predicting another Games would expand that relationship and attract more athletes from other countries to train at Utah's Olympic legacy venues the speedskating oval in Kearns, Utah Olympic Park outside of Park City and the Soldier Hollow Nordic course in Midway.
"This is another way to welcome the world," he said.
A future bid would be privately financed. The Exploratory Committee estimated bidding to become the U.S. candidate city would cost about $1 million, while the international competition would cost closer to $25 million. The 2026 Games would have a $1.67 billion operating budget (up from $1.3 billion in 2002), its report projected.
There's little question, Herbert added, that staging the Games in 2026 or later would benefit Utah financially, much like the estimated $5 billion economic impact from 2002.
Becker said Salt Lake City is better situated than it was in 2002 to be a host city, citing an expanded mass transit system and greater hotel capacity. He also predicted the compact nature of a Salt Lake Games, with all venues relatively close to the city, would become increasingly important to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for environmental reasons.
Monday's long-anticipated announcement elated Exploratory Committee member Catherine Raney Norman, a retired speedskater who competed in the Salt Lake Games and now teaches the sport to youths at the Utah Olympic Oval.
"Most of my kids are 10 or 11 so they'd be the right age in 2026," she said. "It's rare to be able to compete in your home country. I was fortunate to have that. I hope it can happen for them, too."
While 2026 may seem a long way off, former SLOC leader Bullock said it really isn't in the IOC's site-selection process. The IOC will award the 2026 Olympics in 2019, three years after the bidding process begins with the USOC.
"Everything is done long term. You have to lay plans and network with various organizations," Bullock said. "Seeds need to be planted now if you want to harvest them in the future."
Several time frames are important to Salt Lake City's dreams of staging another Olympics:
• The U.S. Olympic Committee will decide early next year whether to pursue a bid for the 2026 Winter Games.
• If it does, the USOC will begin its process of selecting a candidate city in 2016. A decision will be made about a year later.
• If Salt Lake City emerged victorious from that process (over expected challengers Denver, Reno-Tahoe and Bozeman, Mont.), the International Olympic Committee will pick the host city in 2019.