Mitt Romney discusses guns, curling, climbing and Utah’s shot at the 2030 Olympics

The senator was instrumental in bringing Ukrainian athletes to Utah during the ongoing war.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Mitt Romney tries his hand at curling during a visit to the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, Friday, May 27, 2022.

Kearns • Utah Sen. Mitt Romney has no say in the International Olympic Committee’s decision on where to hold the 2030 Winter Games.

But, on Friday he was feeling confident.

“We get to for sure in 2030,” he said.

The senator was at the Utah Olympic Oval on Friday to receive a curling lesson from the Ukrainian national team that, thanks in part to Romney’s intervention, will be stationed in Utah until Russia’s invasion of that country ends. It was part of a sports-themed afternoon that also saw the senator discuss Utah’s Olympic bid, and later tour the climbing structures that have been erected in Salt Lake City’s Pioneer Park to host three climbing World Cup events.

Romney has been vocal in his support for a return of the Olympics to Salt Lake City, which could infuse the state economy with $3.9 billion. He said he believes hosting international teams, like the Ukrainians, and world-class international events, like the climbing, only cement Utah’s reputation as a place where sports are held in high regard.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Mitt Romney speaks to media during a visit to the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, Friday, May 27, 2022.

“Clearly, having a community show such interest in Olympic sport makes it more likely for the Olympic Committee to say, ‘Hey, this is a place to bring the Olympics,’” Romney said. “They want the games to go someplace where people love the Olympics. And Utah has proven that this is something we absolutely adore.”

Utah has doggedly pursued hosting the Winter Games in 2030. But questions about whether it could get enough sponsor support so soon after L.A. 2028 complicate that bid. Plus, the International Olympic Committee — which is expected to winnow down its choices this summer — may feel some obligation to give those Games to Sapporo, Japan, as a peace offering after Tokyo incurred billions of dollars in expenses by delaying the 2020 Summer Games a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. So, Utah might have to wait for 2034, or even further into the future.

Mitt Romney learns to curl

Romney’s work is in the Senate, but on Friday he was happy to be in the house.

The 75-year-old made just two attempts at sliding a curling stone across the ice sheet at the Oval. One of the shots landed on the outer edge of the target that is painted into the ice — commonly referred to as “the house.”

“A Romney is in the house!” the senator said afterward.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Mitt Romney, left, and Fraser Bullock during a visit to the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, Friday, May 27, 2022.

After his few attempts at the sport — “the hardest part is getting down on my knee” — Romney spoke with the Ukrainian team via an interpreter. He told them that he and Fraser Bullock, the chief organizing officer of the Salt Lake City Olympics, helped build the Oval for the 2002 Winter Games. Bullock, who also tried his hand at curling for the first time Friday, is the president of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games that is jockeying to host the 2030 or 2034 Olympics.

“We look forward to seeing you here in 2030,” the senator told the nine athletes and their coach, Erkki Lill.

That sounds like a good goal to Eduard Nikolov, 18, of Odessa. He didn’t know when Romney interrupted practice that the man trying to curl in blue jeans and hiking shoes played a part in bringing his team to Utah. Ultimately, the state is expected to host as many as 50 Ukrainian athletes and sports personnel, including a group of skiers due in the state early next month.

Yet Nikolov expressed his gratitude at being given a safe haven from the fighting in his home country, where his mother, father, older sister and niece still live. He appreciated going to a place he’d heard of before, if only because he follows the NBA and has watched the Utah Jazz on TV.

“I want, from the whole team, to thank everyone who has helped us be here and supported us,” Nikolov said through an interpreter. “And also I want to send out a big thanks for everyone in Ukraine.”

Climbing the ladder

While Romney was game to get down with curling, he declined the invitation to scale a 49-foot wall.

Following his stop at the Oval, he headed to Pioneer Park in the center of Salt Lake City, where a series of climbing walls had been built to host three International Federation of Sport Climbing World cup events. Instead of getting hands-on, he watched as two Americans demonstrated speed climbing. Lined up side-by-side, they tried to scale identical routes laid into the towering wall. The first one to the top wins.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Mitt Romney visits the Ukrainian national curling team at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, Friday, May 27, 2022.

Speed climbing was roped in, figuratively, with bouldering and lead climbing when it made its Olympic debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games last year — when Utah’s Nathaniel Coleman took silver. For Paris 2024, however, it will be separated out into its own discipline. Los Angeles has not determined how it will handle climbing for its 2028 Summer Games, but some of the climbers took the opportunity to urge Romney to encourage the separation of the disciplines.

Romney also got a behind-the-scenes tour of the route setting for the Boulder World Cup that will be held Sunday.

Romney discusses gun control

Shortly after a group of eighth graders on a field trip to try curling exited the ice at the oval, Romney advocated sheet-side for getting weapons out of the hands of young people. The remarks came two days after 19 kids and two adults were shot and killed by an 18-year-old at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

“People have the right to bear arms. At the same time, we want to make sure that we do everything we can think of to eliminate or reduce the threats in our schools,” Romney told a group of reporters. “So finding ways to make sure young people don’t have immediate access to weapons that might hurt children is something that is being considered. How that’s going to be dealt with will probably be done on a state-by-state basis.”

Romney said the Texas tragedy has created momentum for Congress to come together for change.

“This is something that has been discussed at some length over a long period of time,” he said, “and I think there is some impetus in place now to actually make progress that people agree to.”

One of Romney’s platforms during his 2018 campaign for Senate was stricter background checks. He advocated for those again Friday. On the other hand, he said he would prefer the adoption of red-flag laws be left up to each state.

Utah does not have a red-flag law, which allows law enforcement officials, often at the request of the family and with a court order, to seize the guns of someone considered a danger to themselves or others. Nineteen states do have them, however, including Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.

“The reason I think it makes most sense for laws relating to waiting periods and red flag laws to come from states is because there are differences of opinion state to state,” Romney said. “Let the state legislature make those decisions.”

The Utah legislature has “absolutely no appetite for this kind of law,” Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, said last year. Handy proposed Utah adopt a red-flag law in 2018, 2019, and 2020 with no success.