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.
"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.
Broadcast to some 3 billion television viewers worldwide, the Olympics "put us on the map" for international travelers, von der Esch said, especially from Europe.
Spencer P. Eccles, executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, said while no companies over the years have cited the Games as the reason they relocated to Utah, the event still influenced their decision.
"You have to be on somebody's radar screen to have them say, 'What about Utah,'" Eccles said. "It all starts with being known and demonstrating what you can do."
The 24,000 volunteers at the Games showed off the strength of Utah's workforce, he said, a key component for companies looking to relocate.
"People had a chance to see, 'You know what, the kind of people here in Utah, their work ethic, their voluntarism, is off the charts,'" he said, also citing Utahns' friendliness and ability to speak foreign languages thanks to their Mormon missionary service.
Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt said the state should look seriously at supporting another Olympic bid.
"The case to do it again is compelling, in my view, not just for us but for the Olympic movement. The facilities are there. The competencies are there," Leavitt said. "I think it would be a good thing."
Supporters of another Olympic bid aren't talking publicly about their plans, suggesting it's too soon for specifics in part because an ongoing dispute over revenue sharing between the U.S. and International Olympic committees has stalled any bids from American cities.
"Talk to me in a few weeks," said Lane Beattie, Salt Lake Chamber president and CEO, and the state's former Olympic czar. "We'll do it again. We will. There's no question."
Beattie said the 2002 Games left a legacy for Utahns that's going to be tough to top. "That's one of the difficulties of us putting on another Olympic Games," he said. "The friendliness of Utah citizens has never, anywhere else, even come close" to what visitors experienced a decade ago.
He said just last week, a woman brought up her memories of her son getting up at 3 a.m. to serve as a Games volunteer. "People are so proud," Beattie said of Utahns. "There's a pride that is absolutely wonderful to see."
The Salt Lake Games were widely heralded by the IOC and the rest of the sports world as the best-ever Winter Olympics after overcoming both the impact of an international bribery scandal and the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Reforms in the Olympic bidding process as a result of the allegations that Utah tried to buy IOC votes with cash, gifts and scholarships mean IOC members "are no longer treated as princes and princesses," Beattie said.
Utah, he said, may have participated in what many saw as bribery but also helped put an end to the acceptance of what had been a long-standing practice.
Fraser Bullock, who served as the Games' chief operating officer and has stayed involved in the Olympic movement, said the "end result was that Utah emerged from the Olympics with so many positives, I personally think it was worth it."
Bullock said not only did hosting the Olympics transform Utah into a winter sports capital, it also pulled the community together to save the state's reputation.
Now, he said, people around the world have forgotten the bribery allegations that surfaced in 1998 and just remember how much they liked the Games.
"Obviously, at one point in time, our community took a tremendous hit on our worldwide reputation," Bullock said, recalling someone spotting the Salt Lake Olympic logo on his shirt at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney and taunting him about the scandal. "It was a very troubled time."
He said he and others brought in under Romney to save the scandal-scarred Games "went into it with our heads down, just trying to make this thing work," cutting budgets, selling sponsorships, renegotiating deals and rallying Utah volunteers.
"Our reputation is now that, 'You guys can do anything you put your mind to.' It's not a question anymore," Bullock said.
It was the nation and world's first big event after the 9
11 terrorist attacks, prompting some countries to question whether they would participate. But security concerns with met and the Olympics occurred without serious incident.
"Utah as a community faced those challenges and came together and did a spectacular job," Bullock said. "Whether they were volunteers working at the time, or buying tickets, or just coming down to Salt Lake, I think our community felt a unification like never before."
Tom Welch, the leader of the city's Olympic bids, said hosting the Games taught Utahns some important lessons about themselves.
"I think we feel differently about ourselves," Welch said. "When we started the Olympic process back in the early '80s, there were advertising slogans (labeling) Utah 'a pretty, great state.' The economy was down."
As a result of hosting the Games, Welch said Utahns gained "a recognition that we're as good as a city in this country, and any city in this world. We're not limited by the confines of where we live. We're an international people."
And a people "who measure up to the challenge," of putting on a successful Games despite the obstacles, he said. "I have a sign over my desk that reads, 'I never said it would be easy. I said it would be worthwhile.'"
Welch, who left the Games' organizing committee for personal reasons before the scandal surfaced, faced federal charges in connection with the bribery allegations that were later dismissed.
He acknowledged personally paying "a heavy price" for his involvement with the Games, but said he and his family still have good memories. He said people still thank him for his efforts.
Just the other night, Welch said, a man came up to him at a restaurant "and shook my hand and said, 'Thanks for what you went through and thanks for bringing the Games here. I was opposed to the Games coming but I was wrong.'"
Not everyone who shared that view has come around.
David Owen, part of a group that opposed government spending on the Games, said another bid doesn't make sense given the nation's growing concern over government spending.
"The Olympics were great. But I don't understand why the taxpayers had to pay for them," Owen, now a lobbyist, said. "In my mind, it's not the proper role of government — nothing against the Olympics."
Former 2002 Games volunteer Dominic Moore, now the chief resident in pediatric medicine at a Phoenix hospital, said he'd gladly return to help with another Olympics in Utah.
"We had a few cold nights out working, but honestly, I think I was so excited and the people I worked with were so excited, that it was worth it," Moore said.7 comments on this story
"I'd definitely do it again."
After the Olympics
The Deseret News this week looks back on Salt Lake City as host of the 2002 Winter Games. Coming the next few days:
Behind the Games
Travel and tourism
Facilities and venuesPossible 2022 Games hosts
Among the areas considering bids for the 2022 Winter Olympics:
Davos/St. Moritz, Switzerland