SALT LAKE CITY — It's official — Utah is considering another Olympic bid.
"I think that Olympic fire still burns bright within most Utahns," Gov. Gary Herbert said, promising any decision on a bid for a Winter Games in 2022 or beyond would be based on "fiscal prudence and good governance."
His announcement Wednesday of the formation of an exploratory committee came on the 10-year anniversary of the
opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Games, celebrated a few hours later with the relighting of the Olympic Cauldron at the University of Utah.
Close to 1,000 gathered at Rice-Eccles Stadium had their eyes and cameras trained on the cauldron while two torches were held by two young winter sports athletes at the base of the tower. Fireworks went off, music played and three minutes passed with no flame.
Fraser Bullock, former chief operating officer for the Games, promised the cauldron would be lit within the next 24 hours. But, fortunately, spectators only had to wait a few more minutes before a giant flame appeared and the crowd cheered.
According to cauldron designer Jim Doyle, one of the two pyrotechnical devices didn't go off, and the second "went off but didn't ignite." Doyle guessed water that had collected atop the cauldron throughout the rainy day played a role. Increasing the voltage was the trick to eventually igniting the flame, the cauldron flame ignited, triggering applause from the crowd.
"It's getting old," Doyle said.
Ten years, exactly, from when the cauldron was lit without a hitch and burned for the entire 16-day event that invited the world to Utah. Wednesday's ceremony kicked off 10 days of events marking the anniversary of the Games.
Utahns will know in the next three to four months whether Salt Lake City will make a bid for another Olympics. Other cities already eying a bid for 2022 include Denver and the Reno-Tahoe area in the United States, St. Moritz in Switzerland, and the Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine.
At the announcement of another bid, Herbert said there's no question Utah is ready for another Olympics. "We've proven the point we're capable of hosting," he said, "probably better than anyone who's done it before."
But the governor said there are questions that need to be answered before committing to another bid.
Those include whether the private sector is willing to step up with the money needed to upgrade the state's Olympic facilities, including the speed skating oval in Kearns where Wednesday's announcement was held.
Also still unclear is whether Utahns want another Olympics. Bullock said getting public input is at "the top of our list."
"This is a Utah event. It's a Salt Lake City event. It's from the citizens, so they should have an overwhelming influence in the direction we take," Bullock said. Public input, he said, could include conducting a survey.
The 14-member exploratory committee gathering that input and making the recommendation will be led by Lt. Gov. Greg Bell along with Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker and Steve Price, the private sector co-chairman of the Utah Sports Commission.
Becker said, "there is no pre-determined recommendation. We need to take a very hard look at every aspect of whether or not it is worthwhile for our community, for our state, for our taxpayers, for the private sector to step forward again."
But one of the athletes on the committee, Eric Heiden, a five-time Olympic gold medalist in speedskating who is now an orthopedic surgeon in Salt Lake City, said he'd already made up his mind.
Describing the boost another Olympics would give young athletes in Utah, Heiden said, "I know I'm a little bit biased, but I vote yes" on another bid.
The news of considering another bid generated plenty of response.
Mitt Romney, the former leader of the 2002 Games and now a GOP presidential candidate, said he was "delighted that Utah is thinking about bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Our great nation is wonderfully suited to host the world's greatest sporting competition."
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, called the prospects of hosting another Olympics exciting.
"I think we showed as a state that we can do it, that we can host the Games successfully," she said. "I think we have a great story to tell."
But, she said, the cost should not fall on Utahns. "I do not feel comfortable asking the taxpayers to foot the bill for the Olympics."
Former Gov. Mike Leavitt said another bid deserves a serious look.
"I think we would be seen as a serious candidate by virtue of what we did before," Leavitt said. "But I think we could do it even better than we did the last time."
Former Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini, who was involved in the failed bid for the 1998 Winter Olympics that went to Nagano, Japan, said, "It would be much easier for us to do it a second time around" because the facilities are already in place.
"But a lot of it is all about politics," Corradini said of the decision-making process that starts with the U.S. Olympic Committee selecting a candidate and ends with the International Olympic Committee choosing the site.
"Whether our time will come again, nobody can guess at this point," Corradini said. "I do know there are a lot of people who would love to go to work on a second bid. If I were asked, I certainly would."
Plenty of the people gathered at Rice-Ecceles Stadium for the lighting ceremony would, too.
"I want it," said Ellen Wixon, a Kaysville resident who volunteered in 2002, helping during the opening and closing ceremonies. "Everything is built. Bring it back!"
Pete Liacopouloss, a Salt Lake City man carrying an Olympic flag and sign which read, in part, "2022 Olympics? Let's do it!" agreed.
"We benefited the first time," he said "It would do the state good. ... If we get them in 10 years, no one will have to drive."
Former Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson, who spoke at the cauldron ceremony with Bullock, Herbert and Leavitt, said the Games changed the city forever. "We can always be proud and perhaps we should do it again."
Although many residents are ready and willing for a second chance to host the Olympics, Bell said one of the first issues the committee will have to deal with is finding funding for travel and other expenses. "We don't think this is going to be very costly," the lieutenant governor said.
"We'll not ask for governmental funds. Part of the test of this from the very first will be, will the business and other parts of our community other than government step up and be willing to support this exploratory effort."23 comments on this story
He said the committee would not be subject to the state's open meeting laws. "We have nothing to hide," Bell said. "Nothing is going to be secret that needn't be, but certainly we have to be aware of our competitive question as well."
Herbert said he would anticipate the meetings would "be open and transparent. There's no reason they won't be."
Contributing: Dennis Romboy