As 10th anniversary of 2002 Winter Games nears, governor weighing another Olympic bid

Published: Saturday, Feb. 4 2012 12:00 p.m. MST

WHISTLER, BC - FEBRUARY 22: Anders Johnson of the United States competes in the men's ski jumping team event on day 11 of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics at Whistler Olympic Park Ski Jumping Stadium on February 22, 2010 in Whistler, Canada. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Shaun Botterill, Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY — As Utahns prepare to celebrate the passing of a decade since hosting the 2002 Winter Games, there's a new push to bid for a future Olympics.

Gov. Gary Herbert said he's involved in discussions and weighing the costs and benefits of making a bid to host the 2022 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, where the Olympic cauldron will be lit Wednesday evening to mark the 10-year anniversary.

The 2002 Games attracted the world's attention to Utah, putting the state in the spotlight over first, scandal, and later, recovery and performance. Mitt Romney, the man called to turn around the troubled Olympics, is seeking the highest office in the land.

The legacy left behind also includes the athletes who continue to train and compete at the Olympic venues and the experiences of thousands of Utahns who served as volunteers.

Utah has become known around the globe for its winter sports venues and friendly people, not just for its Mormon pioneer heritage. Now, there's talk of trying to do it all over again.

"There's still a lot of questions. It's not 'Can we do it?' It's 'Should we do it?'" Herbert said. "Is there an opportunity for Utah?"

He added: "I've been intrigued because of the potential for 2022," the governor told the Deseret News. "There's a lot of issues that have to be answered before I pull the trigger."

Those issues include how much it would cost to ready the state-built bobsled, luge and skeleton track, speed-skating oval and other Olympic facilities, now operated by a private foundation with money from the 2002 Games.

"I can tell you we won't be doing it with taxpayers' dollars. We'll have to see if the private sector is willing to step up," the governor said, adding he's concerned about covering other big-ticket expenses such as transportation and security.

And there's the pressure of bidding. Salt Lake would first have to beat out other American cities seeking the same Olympics, a list expected to include Denver and the Reno-Tahoe area.

"It's a constant headache," Herbert said. "Are we willing to have a constant headache for what, another 10 years?"

The governor said he wants to make a decision this year. But if the 2002 Games is his measure, Olympics lovers could be happy with the result.

Feel-good Olympics

"I feel good as a Utahn about how we hosted the world and can claim we had the most successful and the most profitable, I might add, Winter Olympics," Herbert said. "I give it an 'A-plus-plus.'"

Salt Lake Olympic organizers posted a profit of more than $100 million, more than enough to pay back the taxpayers' investment in the facilities and create an endowment to help cover operating costs.

The Olympics, Herbert said, were "our coming-out party. It was the discovery of Utah" by the rest of the world. "They said, 'Gee, we didn't know; we didn't realize.' It's kind of like this awakening that's taken place."

Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake, the new name for the convention and visitors bureau, said hosting the Olympics took the state "from the little kids' table to the adults' table" in the eyes of the world.

"It's an immediate game-changer," Beck said, and still a key selling point to would-be visitors. He said it demonstrates that "we've got the chops and the credibility to do what you need done."

Put Utah on the map

Leigh von der Esch, managing director of the Utah office of Tourism, said before the Olympics, not many people outside the United States knew much about Utah.

"It was known maybe for the Mormon religion," she said, because Salt Lake City is the headquarters for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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