Not that many cities get to host the Olympic Games. Fewer still have a chance to host them twice, much less twice within a little more than a generation.
In theory, the opportunity for Salt Lake City to do again what we did pretty well before should mean that we do it even better next time.
And by “better,” we should all mean not merely how the athletic events, pomp and ceremony go and are seen around the world. That’s not going to be all that difficult, given the local winter sports infrastructure and official enthusiasm.
What “better” should mean this time is not just the games themselves, but whether and how the event leaves our communities better than they were going in.
How the city, the area, the state can leverage the international attention, the billions in sponsorships, broadcast rights and state and federal money to make a dent in problems that are much more important, more lasting, than being the center of two weeks of globally broadcast hoopla.
Not that there’s anything wrong with being the center of two weeks of globally broadcast hoopla.
But Utah has bigger fish to fry.
We are tragically short of affordable housing.
Our highways are jammed, largely because we are far behind where we should be in building out a modern public transit system and walkable communities.
Our air is sometimes filthy — and particularly likely to be so just when the games are going strong.
Our government is riddled with opaque operations, sweetheart deals and government contracts that go to fast-talking political and theological cronies rather than skilled doers.
Personages including Gov. Spencer Cox, Mayor Erin Mendenhall and local Olympic committee boss Fraser Bullock sent up a cheer from the steps of City Hall when the news was announced.
The process is not the same as it used to be, so Wednesday’s decision is not set in stone. But it is written in pretty clear ink.
Line up all the appropriate documents, sponsorships, government agreements — most or all of which are already in place — and there is little to prevent the decision becoming final when the IOC meets in Paris during the 2024 Summer Games.
Bullock was one of the wheels in the local committee the last time Salt Lake City hosted the games — way back in 2002. He will be 79 years old in 2034, so some kind of succession plan should be in the works soon.
Not only that, but the local committee — and all the local and state agencies, foundations and private corporations that deal with the committee — should be demanding a regime of total transparency in sponsorships, bidding and contracting.
Scandals of bribery and other shenanigans have accompanied many of the Olympics over the years, and our next time around should set a high standard for how all that grime can be avoided.
The urge to put on the best possible show should also be an inspiration — and a source of funds — for the city and state to make some great strides toward goals they should be tackling anyway.
Certainly, in the decade we have to get ready for our next Olympics, we can have created enough deeply affordable housing and services for the mentally ill that there will be no need for a Potemkin village sweep of homeless encampments — just for as long as the world is paying attention.
We can leverage the need for Olympic athletes, staff and visitors to get around the valley and up its mountains into building a much more extensive — and environmentally responsible — public transit system.
We can permanently modernize our liquor laws so that none of our guests needs to be accompanied by a Zion-speaking translator when in search of a simple cocktail.
None of that happened last time.
What Salt Lake City has to show for its successful hosting of the 2002 Winter Olympics — other than a few small monuments, park benches and a fascinating mechanical arch that went somehow missing for several years — includes little of lasting value.
No Fortune 500 corporations moving to the valley. No permanent housing other than some units built for University of Utah students.
Handle all of this in the exemplary fashion we are capable of — with enough attention and robust oversight — and we may find ourselves a more-or-less permanent host for the Winter Games. Maybe every third or fourth go-around.
Because we have the event venues. Because we have the knowhow.
And because, in a world beset by climate change, only we have the snow.