3:23 PM EDT, March 17, 2014
The International Olympic Committee’s latest indulgence to wretched excess ended Sunday with the closing ceremony of the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.
The IOC sat idly by while Russia passed anti-gay legislation that mocked the Olympic Charter; spent an estimated $51 billion (a big chunk apparently lining the pockets of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s oligarch biddies); despoiled the environment; and left sports venues and high-end hotels that may be used sparingly, if at all, in years to come.
So it seemed a combination of both irony and coincidence that the application filing date for potential 2022 Winter Games host cities was last Friday.
Five cities applied.
The shame is the best possible candidate isn’t in a race that will end with a July 31, 2015 IOC vote.
There is one great candidate among the five: Oslo, Norway. There is another candidate, Almaty, Kazakhstan, that sadly could become the favorite if the good people of Norway remain properly skeptical about funding the idea.
A Winter Games in Kazakhstan, seen by Transparency International as one of the world’s most corrupt countries and run by a Putin-style strongman, Nursultan Nazarbayev, would make the financial excesses and improprieties of Sochi seem like pocket change.
The other applicants: Lviv, Ukraine (excuse the bitter laughter); Krakow, Poland, which proposes having some events in another country, Slovakia; and Beijing, which would have some mountain events 150 miles away in Zhangjiakou, and all outdoor competitions would be invisible given the levels of winter air pollution in both places.
And the best possible candidate, for 2022, 2026, whenever?
It is where the IOC would go if its pledges to reduce fiscal insanity, leave a sustainable legacy and minimize environmental impact were more than idle words.
It is where the IOC would go if it could recognize its own hypocrisy.
It is Salt Lake City, host of the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Every sports venue from the 2002 Olympics still is being widely used, nearly all for the same sort of high-level international competition, many for training of both elite and young athletes, others for recreation, some (like Soldier Hollow) for both summer and winter activities. Sochi Olympic champions including Ted Ligety, Sage Kotsenburg and Joss Christensen all developed in the Salt Lake area.
That was the vision Salt Lake City presented in its bid, and it may be the only former Olympic host where that vision has been fully realized.
That includes usual Winter Olympic white elephants like a sliding center and a ski jump hill – both very much alive at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City.
Only the downhill / Super-G courses at Snowbasin have not been re-used for elite competition, because the ski area’s late owner, Earl Holding, chose not to make them available. If Snowbasin did not want to be part of another Olympic bid, there are other slopes in the Park City / Deer Valley area that could handle the Alpine speed events.
The advantages Salt Lake City always had are still there: airport with a wide range of destinations, typically excellent snow conditions, ease of access to venues (Soldier Hollow, home to Nordic skiing and biathlon, was the only venue more than an hour from downtown Salt Lake), plenty of spectator and media housing.
An Olympic Village would be the only major construction needed.
All 2,200 rooms in the 2002 athletes’ village have become student housing at the University of Utah, allowing it to move away from being thought of as a commuter school. It would welcome a chance to get more housing with similar financial help from another Olympic organizing committee.
"The University of Utah is a different place because of the opportunity we got from the Olympics," said Jerry Basford, associate vice-president for student affairs.
All the worries that strait-laced Salt Lake would be a no-fun 2002 Olympic host were groundless.
Partly because the Main Media Center was in the heart of downtown, there was constantly life on the streets. Thanks to gracious cooperation from Mormon leaders, church property became a temporary Olympic medals plaza / concert venue downtown – the first time a Winter Olympic host city had that kind of lively attraction.
Some IOC members resent Salt Lake City for having been the epicenter of the Olympic bid city bribes-for-votes scandal in which nearly three dozen members were implicated, a dozen shown to be thieving petty potentates.
In fact, Salt Lake was only the place where that cesspool happened to bubble to the surface and was thoroughly exposed by what much of the world sees as a peculiar U.S. commitment to truth and transparency. The bribery had gone on for years before the 1995 IOC vote that gave the Winter Games to Utah – and likely still is.
The U.S. Olympic Committee chose not to have a candidate in the 2022 race and is concentrating its efforts on finding a bid city for the 2024 Summer Games. The USOC’s chances of picking a winner are decreased by the publically expressed disinterest – to date – of New York, San Francisco and Chicago, leaving two-time host Los Angeles as the only seemingly viable candidate.
The U.S. would have a better shot with a 2026 winter bid.
The likely IOC resistance to Salt Lake is why I wrote three years ago that Denver and its region had the strongest case for a U.S. winter bid.
That might still be true, but the Colorado costs would be so enormous that there is no doubt Salt Lake is the best choice - if only to make the IOC look like fools by rejecting it.
Or, given that this is the IOC we are talking about, more like fools.
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