Salt Lake Olympic Exploratory Committee members at Games in South Korea spreading Utah’s plan to host again

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Sports Commission President and CEO Jeff Robbins watches the United States vs Olympic Athletes from Russia hockey game at Gangneung Hockey Centre during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. Olympic Athletes from Russia defeated United States 4-0.

Gangneung, South Korea • The first time a Utah contingent went abroad hoping to bring the Olympic Games to Salt Lake City, it was a homespun effort by a handful of the state’s businessmen and politicians. The entire budget, all $35,000 of it, was raised by selling pins for a buck apiece. In the end, the Utahns were all but laughed out of Rome and shut out of their bid for the 1972 Games.

This time around, the Utahns know they are being seen as a much more serious contender for another Olympic bid.

“We’re in a good position — and we think as good as anyone — to host the Games,” Salt Lake Olympic Exploratory Committee co-chairman Jeff Robbins said this week, seated three rows behind the Team USA bench as the Americans took on the Russians in hockey.

Robbins, head of the Utah Sports Commission, arrived with a small group of Utah businessmen in South Korea last week, including David Layton, of Layton Construction, and real-estate executive Steve Price. They watched Nathan Chen land a record six quadruple jumps, saw the Czech hockey team edge Canada in a shootout and made it known that Utah is serious about hosting another Olympics.

The Olympic Exploratory Committee voted earlier this month to move forward in its quest to host either the 2026 or 2030 Winter Games. The committee’s formal report suggests that Salt Lake City could bring the Olympics back for less than it spent to host in 2002 — about $1.29 billion compared with the $1.389 billion spent 16 years ago — and that the Games could net a surplus. Robbins has been putting that report in the hands of Olympic officials in Pyeongchang.

“We’re showing them we can balance the budget and have a little bit of a surplus. That’s the message,” he said. “We think we’re ready to host another Games.”

Utah officials have been traveling to the Olympics abroad since the Games left Salt Lake City in 2002.

“Obviously, it’s good for the Olympic movement for them to see us having continued interest,” Robbins said. “It’s hard to go from zero. We had a strategy in place back in 2006. We’d like to have the chance to bid again. We didn’t know when that would be.”

Utah officials have been to Torino, Italy; Beijing; Vancouver; London; and Sochi, Russia. In Pyeongchang, SLOEC officials are keeping a relatively low profile in part because they are in a holding pattern. Salt Lake City, Denver and Reno/Tahoe all have expressed interest in bidding for a Winter Games, and the U.S. Olympic Committee still has another month to decide if it will put forth a bid city for the 2026 Games.

“We’re kind of waiting on some of the decisions they’re making to know what the next step is,” Robbins said. “But we’re not going to sit and do nothing. We’re going to continue our legacy efforts, building on the momentum we have right now. Once we know what the USOC will do in 2026 and beyond, we’ll be in a better place to make some decisions.”

U.S. officials said last week they have no plans to bid for the 2026 Games. With the Olympics coming to Los Angeles in 2028 and the World Cup in the United States in 2026, sponsorship dollars likely would be spread too thin. Even so, Robbins believes it prudent to keep Salt Lake City at the forefront of their minds in the event that their thinking changes.

“We certainly saw some statements about what their intentions are, but things are so fluid,” Robbins said. “I think for us to continue to be in a position to bid, regardless of what happens, is just a smart move. We can audible. If something happens where they decided 2026 is something that might work, maybe they’re having some difficulty finding another city, then it puts us to be in position to deal with that fluidity.”

The USOC has a March 31 deadline for deciding whether to put forth a bid city for 2026. Though it would prefer a bid for 2030, the possibility of the International Olympic Committee seeking a dual bid — as it did earlier this year when it awarded the 2024 Summer Games to Paris and the 2028 Summer Games to Los Angeles — could change the USOC’s plans.

“As fluid as things are,” Robbins said, “and as many things as have been said and written, you never know.”