Utah takes big step toward bidding for 2026 or 2030 Winter Olympics

A committee will determine whether Utah is ready to stage another Winter Games.

FILE - This Feb. 8, 2002 file photo shows U.S. champion Michelle Kwan practicing for the women's short program for the Winter Olympic Games at the Salt lake Ice Center in Salt Lake City. There's an outside shot the United States won't have to wait 11 years to host its next Olympics. It's a longshot, but there's talk in Salt Lake City, and even some in Denver, of a bid for the 2026 Winter Games, which take place two years before the Summer Olympics return to Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, file)

Jeff Robbins remembers the first pitch to — maybe, hopefully — bring the Olympics back to Salt Lake City one day.

Robbins and a delegation from Utah were in Turin, Italy, for the 2006 Winter Olympics when they met with a group of United States Olympic Committee (USOC) officials. It was there they told the USOC that the Olympics, just four years removed from the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, definitely should come back to Utah.

Ever since, said Robbins, president and CEO of the Utah Sports Commission, the tag line of that hope has been “ready, willing and able.”

Another bid could be on the horizon for the Beehive State’s capital.

On Monday, a group of business, community and elected state leaders announced the formation of an official Olympic/Paralympic Exploratory Committee (OEC), a likely step toward launching a bid for a second Olympics in Utah — in either 2026 or 2030.

Over the next few months, the exploratory committee will examine whether the state should submit Salt Lake City’s name as a potential bidder.

Robbins said the committee will dive into budgets, marketing, potential revenue streams and the overall impact on the state. Since the 2002 Olympics, Utah has maintained its Olympic legacy, continuing to host annual world cup and world championship events in winter sports in the Salt Lake Valley and Park City at several of the same venues used 15 years ago.

“The venues are in good shape,” he said. “We need a little bit of sprucing up and a little bit of refurbishing, but they’re being utilized. For us, we’re so far ahead of the competition, both from a financial standpoint but also because our venues are built. We probably can use all of the same venues, or certainly most of them, with much less cost than another city would have.”

The USOC said Friday that it was interested in bidding for an upcoming Winter Olympics. Late last month, the International Olympic Committee launched its bid process for the 2026 Winter Games, but it’s possible the IOC also may pick a host city for the 2030 Winter Games at the same time, as it did in awarding the 2024 Summer Games to Paris and 2028 Summer Olympics to Los Angeles.

If the IOC goes that route, “we want to be part of that conversation,” USOC Chairman Larry Probst said on a conference call Friday.

USOC board members had just completed a meeting in which they discussed the possibility of going for either option, knowing a 2026 bid must be submitted by March. Salt Lake City, Denver and Nevada’s Reno-Tahoe area have expressed interest in becoming candidates.

“We also need to set up a process for any cities that are interested in potentially hosting a Games in the United States,” Probst said. “Plenty of work to be done, but longer term, yes, we want to bid for the Winter Games.”

The exploratory committee will be co-chaired by Robbins, Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser and Fraser Bullock, chief operating officer of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) in 2002. Bullock was SLOC’s president after the Games, overseeing the distribution of a $100 million profit, including a $64 million endowment still underwriting operations of the speedskating oval in Kearns, bobsled/luge track and ski jumps outside of Park City and the Soldier Hollow cross country and biathlon facility in Midway.

Representatives of two sports organizations that benefit from those facilities — U.S. Speedskating Association President Mike Plant and Dexter Paine, chairman of U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association — will serve as committee vice chairmen. Additional exploratory committee members are scheduled to be unveiled at a Thursday news conference.

“Salt Lake City and the entire state of Utah set a very high standard for hosting the Olympic Winter Games in 2002,” said Gov. Gary R. Herbert in a new release. “Since then, Utah has continued to expand and grow our presence in the worldwide sports community. We see this as the right time to explore the possibility of hosting the world again.”

A series of events seemed to break in favor of that this weekend. “Kind of this perfect storm,” Robbins said.

The Austrian city of Innsbruck, which hosted the Winter Games in 1964 and 1976 and was dubbed by Robbins as “the sentimental favorite,” dropped out after residents in its region voted against going for the Olympics again.

The Swiss government also delayed a decision about whether to financially support a potential bid by Sion, which had challenged Salt Lake City unsuccessfully for the 2002 Games and lost out to Turin for the 2006 Olympics.

While the hype grows locally, officials are wary of distracting attention from Los Angeles and the 2028 Olympics. “We wouldn’t want to do anything that would impact them in any way,” Robbins said. “We want to be a great partner.”

“We value our long-standing relationship with the International Olympic Committee and the USOC and we are eager to explore any opportunity that should present itself to host the games again,” Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said in Monday’s release. “We also congratulate Los Angeles on being awarded the 2028 Olympics and [are] supporting them in any way we can.”

Robbins expects the newly formed committee to spend three months studying issues and to present a report to the Legislature by Feb. 1, 2018, adding that it’s too early to say how much another bid or Winter Games would cost.

“We do think we will have a significant cost advantage, expense advantage over other cities that we’re competing with,” he said, “because we won’t have to build and do a lot of the infrastructure work.”

“As to who might have a leg up in that competition,” Blackmun said, “we honestly haven’t evaluated or assessed it at all.”