The group angling to bring the Winter Olympics back to Utah has found one sure-fire way to snag the attention of the International Olympic Committee during a meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, later this month. It’s bringing along Lindsey Vonn.
“They’ll be paying a lot more attention to her than they will to us,” Fraser Bullock, the president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, half-joked Thursday after a committee board meeting at Vivint Arena.
Vonn, the most decorated female skier in history, will be part of the committee’s five-member delegation that is scheduled to meet with IOC members on June 14-16. The delegation, along with members of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, will be making a final push to convince the IOC to designate Utah as the host of the 2030 Winter Games over the likes of Sapporo, Japan, and Vancouver, Canada.
The IOC is expected to narrow the field to one or two sites during a Dec. 5-7 meeting. The host of 2030, and perhaps 2034, will be announced during the IOC general session in Mumbai on May 31-June 1, 2023.
Last year, Vonn was one of 10 athletes named to the SLC-Utah group’s strategic governing board, joining the likes of skiing icon Ted Ligety and gold-medal figure skater Nathan Chen. Vonn first competed in the Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002 and she currently lives in Park City.
Local organizers want to emphasize that their bid is athlete-focused and athlete-driven. Catherine Raney Norman, the SLC-Utah committee’s chair and a four-time Olympic speedskater, said having Vonn along will drive home that message.
“The best part of my role is when I get to call the athletes and ask them to be a part” of the Olympic bid process, Raney Norman said. “And she was instantaneously, ‘Absolutely! How can I be involved? This is something I’m passionate about.’
“And so just to have her as a part of this effort is amazing, right? And for her to be championing what we’re trying to do and to make time in her schedule to come with us. I think she’s going to share an incredibly unique experience as an athlete, as a global leader in sport, as a champion of mental health. And I think it’s going to be a huge thing.”
Vonn, 37, won’t need many introductions at IOC headquarters, and not just because of her celebrity status. IOC President Thomas Bach invited Vonn, who retired in 2019, to join him in thanking the people of South Korea during the closing ceremony for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang. In 2015, he expressed admiration for her determination after she won four World Cups in her return from a knee injury that kept her out of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. She finished her career with three Olympic medals.
“Ninety percent of athletes being in this position would have said, ‘OK, this is it. I would have loved to have another end to my career, but it’s finished,’” Bach told USA Today. “To take this decision, to be back and to be back in this form, now being the most successful skier ever, it’s a great achievement.
“I’m really full of admiration.”
Organizers of Utah’s Olympic bid hope that still holds true.
A study released last month by the IOC reported Utah is one of two Olympic sites, alongside Vancouver, that still uses all of its venues. In addition, the 2002 Games were one of the few in Olympic history that netted a profit. Many of the people behind those Games, including Bullock are heading the push for 2030, and a recent report by the Kem C. Gardner Institute estimated the next Utah Olympics would have an economic impact of $3.9 billion.
Those are the qualities the local delegation, which also includes Nubia Peña, the director of the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs, and Utah Games advisor Darren Hughes, will try to talk up during their June 13-16 visit.
“We’re going to go over there,” Bullock said, “to see if we can really utilize the strength of our bid to get continued serious interest in continuing a dialogue with the United States.”
With so much ground to cover in such a short time, Vonn’s speed may prove as useful as her celebrity.
Whatever tools she uses, Bullock said he thinks she’ll be a valuable asset.
“With Lindsey Vonn, [she’s] the most successful female competitive skier in history and she’s well known and well respected,” Bullock said. “And so her voice carries weight, and it’s important. And the fact that she’s willing to take the time to go with us and spend time advocating for us shows that she believes that Salt Lake would be a great host.”