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10 Years After '02 Winter Games, Salt Lake Considers Another Olympics

American figure skater Sarah Hughes won gold at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
Jacques DeMarthon
AFP/Getty Images
American figure skater Sarah Hughes won gold at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

Just hours before the symbolic rekindling of the Salt Lake Olympic cauldron, officials in Utah today sought to rekindle the 2002 Olympic spirit, announcing they're considering another Olympic bid.

The disclosure at the Utah Olympic speedskating oval in suburban Kearns, comes exactly 10 years after the 2002 Winter Games began.

"Ten years ago, Utah 'Lit the Fire Within,' and today that flame still burns bright," said Gov. Gary Herbert (R). In fact, as celebrations of the 2002 anniversary begin, some Utahns are wearing their official Olympic volunteer coats again.

Herbert and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker (D) said an exploratory committee will take three to four months to consider bidding for the 2022 Winter Games.

"There is no predetermined recommendation," Becker said. "We believe an investment of meaningful time and effort is worthwhile to make the right decision."

Salt Lake's biggest advantage is the existence of expensive and specialized Olympic facilities still in use as training and competition venues for athletes. Organizers would not have to build from scratch a speedskating oval, ski jump or bobsled, luge and skeleton track.

"These venues are a significant advantage in a potential bid," said Eric Heiden, the five-time Olympic gold-medalist and world record-holder in speedskating. Heiden is now an orthopedic surgeon in Utah.

Denver and Reno-Lake Tahoe are also considering 2022 Olympic bids. The United States Olympic Committee will choose one city to nominate as America's host city candidate if it decides to support a 2022 bid.

"At this point, the USOC is not considering any bids for Winter or Summer Olympic Games," says Patrick Sandusky, a spokesman for the USOC. "Our sole focus is on preparing the best team for the London [2012 Olympics] and completing the revenue sharing discussions with the [International Olympic Committee]."

The U.S. and International Olympic Committees are locked in a lingering dispute over the American share of Olympic sponsorship and television revenues. The USOC has said it will not consider another American Olympics until that dispute is resolved.

A Salt Lake City bid has distinct disadvantages, says Dick Pound, a veteran IOC member from Canada who has been part of the group's top leadership.

"I think it would be a long shot," Pound says. "There's just a view [in the IOC] that the games ought to be moved around to countries and cities that never had them before as part of broadening the franchise."

Pound also notes that the IOC considers the 2002 Olympics a great success despite a bribery scandal before the games and concerns about terrorism in the wake of the September 11th attacks. The IOC credits organizing committee CEO Mitt Romney for that success. Romney, who went on to be governor of Massachusetts, is now seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

"The real hope ought to be that Mitt Romney becomes president," Pound adds. "That would certainly add something to [a Salt Lake City bid]."

The IOC wants 2022 candidate cities named by October of 2013. That seems to leave little time to resolve the USOC's revenue-sharing dispute and then to conduct a selection process among competing American cities.

But, "the USOC is unlikely to go through an extended campaign phase as we did [in the past]," says an American Olympic official familiar with the bidding process but not authorized to discuss it publicly.

"There is more than ample time to decide and submit a bid, should we go down that route," the official says.

Denver also has an exploratory committee in place and a Denver bid would present a strong challenge to Salt Lake, says Mike Moran, a former spokesman for the USOC who now works for the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation.

"The city has a strategic plan, sound backing, a superb infrastructure and a youthful, sports-minded population that is crazy about sports," Moran says. "Reno-Tahoe has been at the game for a long time and they have what appears to be a great deal of support. But the Denver population, its airport, existing venues and sheer numbers of hotel rooms and infrastructure is something that can't be discounted."

Denver was named Olympic host city for the 1976 Winter Games but backed out of the Olympics in 1972 after voters rejected public funding. That may be a major problem for some on the IOC.

In 2002, IOC members and athletes raved about the proximity of the Salt Lake City airport to Olympic venues and how mountain and city venues were relatively close.

"There are few cities around the world that can match these geographical and other strengths," says Fraser Bullock, the chief operating and financial officer of the 2002 organizing committee. "Salt's Lake's reputation of hosting games is outstanding and inspires confidence in doing a superb job once again."

Bids may also come in from cities in Switzerland, China, Chile, Germany and other countries. The IOC will select the 2022 host city in 2015.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Howard Berkes
Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.