Not all the i’s have been dotted nor all the t’s crossed on Utah’s designation as the host of the 2034 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. Yet on the steps of Salt Lake City Hall on Wednesday, the hats flew and the tears flowed anyway.
“We did it!” Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, told a crowd of about 200 in front of the east steps. “Congratulations, Utah!”
After more than a decade of patience and planning, Salt Lake City will be an Olympic city once again.
The announcement came with much suspense but little fanfare at the start of a news conference for an International Olympic Committee executive board meeting being held this week in Paris. In addition to naming Salt Lake City its preferred candidate for the 2034 Winter Games, Karl Stoss, chair of the Future Host Commission, announced France is the preferred host for 2030. Switzerland was invited to host in 2038.
Sweden, which has never hosted a Winter Games despite the popularity of snow sports in the country, had also expressed interest in hosting.
“What really stood out about the French Alps and Salt Lake City, Utah, projects,” Stoss said, “was their vision for the athletes’ experience, their alignment with regional and national socioeconomic development plans and a very strong support from the public and from the levels of government.”
While Stoss spoke, exuberant whoops and whistles punctuated the air outside City Hall, where local Olympic bid officials and state and municipal dignitaries — bundled in their pea coats and winter jackets on the brisk November morning — had gathered for a watch party of the IOC’s announcement.
Mayor Erin Mendenhall emerged in a USA bomber jacket and navy beanie with “SLC-UT 2034″ embroidered on the front.
“We are a community that has Olympics in our DNA,” the mayor told the crowd as a news station helicopter buzzed overhead. “That’s why this feels so good and why we know we’re going to get this done.”
Local bid organizers and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee had insisted they would be “ready, willing and able” to host whenever called upon. Yet they got what they wanted with the 2034 selection, which gives them and potential sponsors more distance from the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and from the 2026 World Cup being hosted in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. It also gives state and local officials more time to embark on infrastructure projects like extending the TRAX line and environmental initiatives such as cleaning up Utah’s air.
“Now we have that runway,” Gov. Spencer Cox said. “Now we can start to plan things out, sequence things right and get it done. And having a few extra years to 2034 is a huge deal for us.”
Salt Lake City’s bid has been in the works since 2012, when then-Gov. Gary Herbert and Jeff Robbins, the president and CEO of the Utah Sports Commission, formed an exploratory committee. They originally targeted the 2026 Games. The bid committee originally set its sights on 2030. A year later, after it became clear Utah’s Games would suffer some if held less than two years after L.A. in 2028, the committee reset its target on 2034.
At this time last year, however, it appeared the IOC had no choice but to name Salt Lake City the host of the 2030 Winter Games. The bids from Vancouver, Canada, and Sapporo, Japan, had begun to falter, leaving Utah as the last site standing. Instead, the IOC pushed back its decision and opened up the bidding to more sites. France, Switzerland and Sweden all entered bids within the past year.
Salt Lake City is the only one of those four sites to have all of its government contracts in place as well as nearly all of the other assurances required by the IOC. With that and the success of the 2002 Olympics in its pocket, Utah appeared all but assured to be awarded preferred status for either the 2030 or 2034 Games. Considering the other countries had such a short time to organize their proposals, however, local leaders were kept wondering which year they would get all the way up until Wednesday morning.
“We were ready for either, even though we preferred ’34,” Mendenhall said. “So, this is a great relief. It’s really, really exciting.”
During the news conference, Stoss outlined the factors that pushed Salt Lake City’s bid to the top. They included, “the vision to build on the legacies on 2002 and create a future for venues and sports programs.” Other highlights included Utah’s “very compact” footprint; no requirement of capital investment; the state’s experience in hosting major international events in most Olympic winter sports; and “exceptional public support and the highest level of national, state and city government.”
The 2002 Olympics are considered one of the most successful Winter Games and one of the few to turn a profit. Most of that money was placed into an endowment fund used for the upkeep of the Olympic venues. The successful effort was a key reason Salt Lake City is at the doorstep of winning its second bid with an IOC that is increasingly concerned with sustainability.
“This doesn’t happen without 2002,” Cox said. “I think that’s pretty obvious for everyone.”
The facilities infused by the endowment are a victim of their own success, however, as they have required more money to keep up with more use. One reason organizers have given for hosting another Games is to replenish that fund.
The budget organizers have given for the 2034 Games is $2.4 billion. Built into that is $200 million to replenish the endowment. It also includes roughly $2 billion in operating expenses and a $250 million contingency fund. Organizers have promised that price tag will be privately funded. However, it does not include expenses incurred outside the event’s walls. For example, additional police presence during the 2002 Games cost about $300 million, much of which was footed by taxpayers.
Technically, Salt Lake City can’t take the reins to the Games just yet. The IOC requires preferred hosts to produce numerous government contracts and assurances before it will put up a site for a vote by its general membership next July. The bid will also undergo increased scrutiny, with the IOC creating independent reports on “venue costs, public opinion and potential environmental impact,” according to the organization’s website. With most of the assurances already in pocket, though, local organizers will mostly just need to avoid any major scandals or pitfalls.
During Wednesday’s news conference, IOC members skirted around questions about whether Salt Lake City could be asked to step in if France cannot meet all of its obligations in time. Both France and Salt Lake City can be officially confirmed as hosts at the IOC’s general session before the Paris 2024 Olympics in July, An IOC spokesperson confirmed.
Utah has been planning to bring back the Olympics for more than a decade. And Herbert, for one, thinks they will be more than worth the wait.
“2002 has been listed as the best Winter Olympics in the history of the Games,” he said. “I’m here to predict 2034 will be better.”