Commentary: Salt Lake City's bid for the 1972 Olympics lit a spark that proved successful in 2002 and might again now

Through three subsequent bids, the flicker of “the fire within” didn’t fade.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Fireworks explode above the Closing Ceremony at Rice-Eccles Stadium, signaling the end of the Salt Lake Olympics.

As the drumbeaters prepare glitzy bid documents aimed at convincing the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee that Salt Lake City is the ideal site to stage the 2026 or 2030 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, a review of the city’s first Olympic bid, presented in 1965 in its quest to host the 1972 games, might give them an idea or two.

Or, maybe not.

Thanks to a gold medal-worthy files search by Betsy Welland, archivist at the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library’s Special Collections’ Ski Archives, we were able to pore over numerous Olympic-related documents of the time. Most notable of those papers was a copy of the official bid book, donated to the Ski Archives by a prime mover of that Olympic push, Salt Lake businessman, M. Walker Wallace. Other items reviewed include verbiage of a slide show, press releases from the Utah Travel Council and clippings in my collection on file there. (I was ski writer at The Salt Lake Tribune at the time.)

Viewed through the prism of 50-plus years, the promises made in that first bid and the progress made since are north of wow. Here’s a sampling:

• Five major ski areas (Alta, Brighton, Solitude, Park City and Keetley) are within 14-mile radium of Salt Lake City and within a five-mile radius of each other. By 1970 these resorts will be interconnected by a series of gondolas, lifts, and tramways. A $2 million bond issue approved by the 1965 state legislature assures construction.

• The University of Utah Stadium will be expanded to 60,000 seats and install a pneumatic ceiling and special ice equipment to facilitate skating events.

• Speed skating competitions will be held at a 400-meter permanent ice oval at Utah Exposition Center (state fairgrounds) with 15,000 permanent seats.

• The Salt Lake City airport boasts 81 daily flights. (Today: 337 daily flights).

• Park City (the resort opened in 1963) has two double-chairlifts, a gondola and a 3-mile long mine tunnel tramway with a 1,800 ft. vertical hoist. (Today Park City Mountain has 41 lifts, Deer Valley 21).

• To accommodate visitors, Park City has 12 lodges with shops, services and entertainment. (Today: you do the math).

• The bobsled and luge track will be built on city-owned property at a cost between $250,000 and $500,000. (The ice track at Utah Olympic Park cost $25 million).

• Cross-country ski competitions will be held on the city’s foothills and finish in the downtown area to showcase the city’s skyline.

• On financing: Anticipated revenues are substantially larger than the $2.5 million Squaw Valley figured (for hosting the 1960 games). (The Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the Olympic Winter Games of 2002 realized a profit of $80 million).

In response to a question pertaining to the city or state having “any laws, customs or regulations that would limit, restrict or interfere with the games in any way,” the bid book stated:

“The dominant church in our city is a small church among the great religious institutions of the world. Their members account for about 40% of our citizens. The 60% that do not belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not, we can assure you, feel that they have lost any of their identity or have been deprived of any loss of friendship from their particular beliefs.”

The U.S. Olympic Committee found Salt Lake City’s bid compelling and selected it over Lake Placid, N.Y., to be America’s entry in the international race for the honor of hosting the 1972 games. There the city went up against Sapporo, Japan; Banff, Canada, and Lahti, Finland.

On April 26, 1966, the Utah delegation, comprised of the state’s power elite, presented its case before the IOC in Rome. Salt Lake City came away empty-handed when Sapporo received 32 votes, Banff 15, and Lahti and Salt Lake City seven each.

That setback notwithstanding, the Olympic spark was implanted in the psyche of the city. Through three subsequent bids, the flicker of “the fire within” didn’t fade and on Feb. 8, 2002, Salt Lake City and 50,000 volunteers uncorked the most successful Winter Olympic and Paralympic games in history.

Now, if we only can get those five ski resorts linked with gondolas and tramways, Salt Lake City would really wow the site selection committees.

Mike Korologos, left, with Tana and Onno Wieringa, then-general manager at Alta, taken at the Marriott Library's annual Ski Affair in 2016 at Little America Hotel.

Mike Korologos is a former ski editor for The Salt Lake Tribune and served as Communications Director for both the Salt Lake Bid and Organizing Committees for the Olympic Winter Games of 2002. Now a public relations consultant, he skis, golfs and lives in Salt Lake City.

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