As they went around the table introducing themselves and their roles in the various committees designed to help bring an Olympics back to Salt Lake City and Utah, a notable name couldn’t pass up on an opportunity to make the room laugh. Fraser Bullock, the former SLOC leader in 2002 who now serves as co-chairman on the Salt Lake Olympic and Paralympic Exploratory Committee (OEC), voiced his name, his history with the Games in Utah, and his hopeful future, too.
As he went to name which Olympic cycle he was aiming to lead back here, he cut himself off after “20...,” because as of now, we still don’t know what year the Games might be returning to Utah. It’s all fluid, with as many as three potential cycles being floated as potential timelines.
So, buckle up.
Soon, the Beehive State is going to find out if it will get a chance at an Olympics encore. The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) is planning to make an appointment for a potential bid city for a future Olympic Winter Games by the end of the calendar year. Salt Lake City is one of three long-noted, interested cities alongside Denver and the Reno-Tahoe area.
Are nerves spiking? Not according to Bullock.
“The nice thing is when you have the strong story that we have, it doesn’t create any worry at all,” Bullock said Tuesday morning. “It creates excitement. Because we get to tell our story, and it’s incredibly powerful.”
Later Tuesday, the newly formed Salt Lake Executive Committee for the Games met with the OEC to brief both groups on the ongoing bid process, including a recent trip to the U.S. Olympic Assembly at USOC headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., attended by Salt Lake Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser last month.
This new executive committee, now co-chaired by Biskupski and Niederhauser, was formed after the OEC completed a comprehensive report that eventually recommended that Salt Lake City and Utah had the ability to pursue a future Olympic Winter Games bid. This new committee will serve as an interim partner with the USOC as it goes forward with the bid, said Biskupski.
The Salt Lake City mayor termed the Colorado Springs trip a success. She said the USOC, is planning an on-site visit sometime in November — a one-day event for Utah organizers to wow the USOC with facilities that still remain world-class and fully-functional. Biskupski said they will know by the end of the week when exactly USOC leadership will visit.
Members of the OEC and the newly formed executive committee have been asked to be prepared to showcase all the state and its venues have to offer when that date comes.
“The site visit will be a very important tool for us,” Biskupski said.
USOC spokesperson Patrick Sandusky said Tuesday that "This is simply the continuation of an ongoing process to select a city for a potential future Games bid.”
Salt Lake City can host another Winter Olympics for less than it cost to put on the 2002 Games, according to an OEC report issued earlier this year. The Salt Lake Organizing Committee’s final bill in 2002 totaled $1.389 billion. OEC officials estimate the cost of an Olympic sequel would be about $1.29 billion. During the OEC process, a state audit recommended about $40 million upgrades to still-active Olympic venues across the state over the next decade. Niederhauser said Tuesday that audit was the catalyst for a $20 million appropriation from the Utah Legislature to go toward the necessary venue upgrades over the coming years, and adding more money will go toward the $40 million estimate.
Bullock also said the USOC has submitted a data request that Salt Lake organizers to dive deeper into the original budget forecasts from the the OEC report earlier this year. The deadline to submit the information is next week.
There is little question that Salt Lake City is among the most prepared locations to host another Olympic Games with its venues, Olympic legacy and strong local support from the community. In a poll conducted in February by The Salt Lake Tribune and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, 83 percent of residents statewide said they’d support a future Games. While the 2030 cycle has always been the target for the USOC — and it remains so — the 2026 cycle is currently in limbo.
Sion, Switzerland, and Innsbruck, Austria, withdrew from the 2026 race after losing public referendums. Three candidate cities remain, but all are on shaky ground. The Calgary, Canada, bid has reportedly hit a snag and might come to an end this week as talks of funding at the federal and provincial level have reportedly broken down. The Stockholm, Sweden, bid hasn’t had much public support and the Milan, Italy, candidacy has still yet to receive the necessary backing from the Italian government.
“The fact the USOC is going through the process and gathering more information and fact-finding and kind of honing in on selecting a candidate city for a future bid is really good news,” said Jeff Robbins, president of the Utah Sports Commission and a co-chairman of the OEC. “Everybody feels like with the infrastructure in place, with all the events that we’ve been hosting, with the community support and all of the things that we’ve been doing, we’re pretty bullish on what we think the chances are for us to be awarded a future Games.”
Olympic reporters and observers worldwide have, yet again, floated the idea that Salt Lake could be the most logical worst-case-scenario option should the International Olympic Committee (IOC) fail to secure a host. The IOC will vote on who hosts the 2026 Winter Games in June 2019. Biskupski said that the USOC has reiterated it will not bid for 2026. That’s likely due to the potential sapping of sponsorship and marketing deals from the 2028 Summer Olympics bid won by Los Angeles.
But with so many 2026 contenders dropping out, it’s hard to ignore the scenarios.
“We are maintaining our flexibility,” Biskupski said. “As you’re watching what’s happening around the world, might the U.S. have to bid? So that will be an interesting place to be in as a state and as a country if the rest of the world fails to be able to show up for 2026.”
When asked if 2026 has been part of any local discussions, Bullock said the Salt Lake group is simply following the lead of the USOC.
“Obviously, the Olympic world continues to be very dynamic around any particular year, especially 2026 at this point," he said. "But we’ve just got to put our heads down and do the best we can to answer the USOC’s requests and be prepared for whatever they decide to do.”
Sandusky tweeted Tuesday morning that "The USOC has expressed interest in bidding for future Winter Games, but we are not involved in the 2026 campaign. Our current process is to identify a U.S. city is related to a future Games with multiple cities involved in those discussions.”
Niederhauser said the hovering uncertainty about when the Olympics might return isn’t a cause for concern. It’s about nabbing that bid from the USOC. Niederhauser noted that 40 to 60 percent of U.S. Olympic winter athletes train in Utah and pointed to several national governing bodies of sport being headquartered in the state.
So when USOC officials arrive next month, he’s looking forward to taking them to Park City or Kearns or Midway and pointing out at a one-time Olympic venue that’s functioning with employees working away as an example of why Utah is the logical choice.
Said Biskupski: “It’s really ours to lose.”