KEARNS, Utah – Salt Lake City officials don’t know exactly when they will get to bid for another Winter Olympics, but the host city of the 2002 games wants the world to know it is ready and willing whenever given a chance.
Several prominent figures gathered Thursday at the Olympic Oval speed skating facility in the Salt Lake City suburb of Kearns to unveil a $1.4 million solar project that they say illustrates a broader effort to upgrade venues from the 2002 games.
When Utah officials announced nearly two years ago that they would make a bid for the 2026 games, it seemed like a longshot.
But in the wake of growing reticence from European cities to spend the money to host future Olympics, Utah officials are feeling more optimistic that they could be a viable candidate for the 2026 or 2030 Olympics.
“It makes those cities like Salt lake City more attractive,” said Colin Hilton, CEO of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation. “We aren’t just making promises. We are continuing to take big steps to show the world we’re a leader in sustaining use of our Olympic venues.”
Elite athletes still use most of the state’s Olympic venues for training and competition.
Oslo, Norway, recently became the fourth city to pull out of the running for the 2022 Olympic Games. That race was thrown into turmoil in the wake of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, where the overall price tag was put at $51 billion, scaring off politicians and taxpayers.
Utah officials estimate they could put on a Winter Olympics for about $2 billion, which largely would be spent on renovating and upgrading venues. That figure would be in line with what Vancouver, British Columbia, spent on the 2010 games.
Hilton said Salt Lake City isn’t a candidate for 2022, which has only two remaining contenders: Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan. But Spencer Eccles, a prominent philanthropist who was key in bringing the Olympics to Salt Lake City, said Utah would be open to being an emergency backup if those candidates drop out.
“We stand ready to be drafted,” said Eccles, a legacy foundation board member.
The United States Olympic Committee is still weighing whether to launch a bid for the 2024 Summer Games, a decision expected later this year or early next year. If the committee goes that direction, it would not pick a U.S. city for the 2026 Winter Games, officials have said.
Denver and Reno-Lake Tahoe, Nevada, also have expressed interest in hosting future Winter Olympics.
If Salt Lake City becomes a serious contender for another Olympics, officials would have to answer questions about a bribery scandal that remains a scar on the otherwise successful 2002 games.
Utah showered $1 million in cash, gifts and other favours on International Olympic Committee delegates, prompting a new rule book for Olympic bids. Two Salt Lake bid executives were tried on federal racketeering charges, but were acquitted.
Utah officials downplayed that being an issue for future bids.
“I think it helps, actually, because we were able to clean that up, not just for the state of Utah but for the world,” Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said. “That kind of stuff had been going on everywhere for a long, long time.”