Grief and fear still lingered in John Baker’s heart over the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but as Salt Lake City opened the 2002 Olympic Winter Games that following February, those bad feelings seemed to fall away.
Then in his early 20s, the Bountiful resident remembers a torrent of uplifting experiences from those 17 days. Meeting countless international visitors as an Olympic volunteer. The thrill of live world-class competitions at splendid venues and nightly events at Olympic Medals Plaza. Huge artistic murals draped across the city’s buildings. Watching the Closing Ceremonies’ immense fireworks display from atop his parents’ rooftop nearby.
“The sense of community it brought to Salt Lake, it was kind of unreal to feel that,” said Baker, 39, who enthusiastically supports efforts to bring another Olympics to the capital city. “I want my own kids to have that feeling. I want them to know what this community can put together and be part of something way bigger than Salt Lake.”
“It was so memorable,” he said.
A new poll, commissioned by The Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics, finds that Baker is among large numbers of Utah voters in favor of the city’s quest to host the 2030 Winter Games.
It’s well reported that Utahns have tilt toward Olympic fandom since 2002, especially if TV watching is any guide. But just weeks after Salt Lake City’s selection in December by the U.S. Olympic Committee as “America’s choice” to bid for a future Winter Olympics, fully 84 percent of registered voters surveyed said they either strongly or somewhat support the idea. Only 12 percent of respondents opposed the city’s latest Olympic efforts.
Backing for an Olympic reprise was particularly strong among women and young people and appeared to bridge political and religious affiliations, according to the poll, conducted from Jan. 15 to Jan. 24.
The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The International Olympic Committee is not scheduled to award the 2030 bid — the one Utah has its eye on — until the summer of 2023. The U.S. will host the 2028 Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles, which had previously held the 1984 Games.
While 2030 is 11 years away, major steps by Salt Lake City and others are already underway since the news in December, including a briefing Tuesday involving Olympics organizers and Mayor Jackie Biskupski. Officials are in early stages of developing guiding principles and a communications campaign for the bid, cooperating with Los Angeles’ Olympic efforts and securing up to $15 million in state funding to lure other major sporting events to Utah between now and then.
“Before, we weren’t in line,” said Fraser Bullock, a former leader of Salt Lake City’s 2002 bid who now serves as co-chairman on the Salt Lake Olympic and Paralympic Exploratory Committee. “Today, we’re in line. We will host another Games. It’s just a matter of time.”
Biskupski said widespread local support remains a singular feature of Salt Lake City’s Olympic legacy compared with many other host cities, and she called it “key to our success” in pursuing future Games.
“People are excited,” the mayor said, adding that she is now just as likely to be stopped by a resident in the grocery store to talk about the Olympics now as she is to discuss potholes in city streets.
She said public enthusiasm — mirrored by support among Utah’s business and political leaders — needed be an integral part of the city’s emerging media strategy.
“It is a unique story unto itself,” said Biskupski. “We need to understand it and embrace it and craft something, not just talking points, but that story for people to share.”
In interviews, several poll respondents pointed not only to the joy of being part of the Games, but significant economic gains from the state’s exposure on a global stage, particularly its outdoor recreation and Olympic venues, which continue to nurture athletes and lure high-profile sporting events.
“We’ve drawn interest from companies that normally would not have looked at Utah,” said Dan Cripps, 64, of Magna. “Another opportunity would be wonderful. I’m completely in support of it.”
Nearly 89 percent of female respondents supported the Olympic bid, compared with 80 percent of men.
Jen Kirchhoefer, a 52-year-old real estate agent living in Layton, fondly recalled “the energy and the community of the Olympics,” but she also praised the event’s economic effects.
“It was amazing, the unity it brought to Utah,” Kirchhoefer said. “And then the people that came saw the value of what we have here. We have a ton to offer in this state. We have some of the greatest outdoor sports venues in the world.”
The Tribune-Hinckley Institute poll results also reveal even stronger support among Utah’s young adults, who would have been 1- to 7-year-olds when Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Games. Nearly 96 percent of respondents between 18 and 24 years old backed the latest Olympic efforts, well ahead of other age groups, which ranged between 81 percent and 87 percent in favor.
Biskupski said the city also intends to develop publicity campaigns targeting young people to raise their engagement in the Olympics — and to encourage future athletes to follow their dreams.
“Our legacy,” she said, “is a world model.”