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In our opinion: Salt Lake going for Olympic gold again

Published: Thursday, Dec. 6 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Fraser Bullock, at podium, stands with Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert, left, and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Lt. Gov. Greg Bell as they announce Salt Lake City's interest in pursuing another Winter Olympics bid in 2026 during a press conference Monday, Dec., 3, 2012, at the Olympic museum near Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

In the weeks and months before the 2002 Winter Olympics, people often were heard wondering why the International Olympic Committee doesn't choose either one or a small group of cities and designate them as permanent Olympic sites.

That's the same sort of thinking behind Gov. Gary Herbert's decision, announced at a press conference this week, for Utah to launch yet another Olympic bid — this time for 2026.

Using sound economic sense, 24 years is not too soon for a repeat. The question, however, is whether the IOC is as interested in economic sense as it seems to be in finding new cities to host the games.

But economic sense and austerity ought to resonate in this age, when many formerly rich countries have few resources.

Given how expensive it is to build venues for various events — many of which are well outside the list of sports that command attention on a daily, or even seasonal, basis — the Olympics could benefit by rotating among a select few cities that have already made the investment. Otherwise, luge runs and speedskating ovals are left mostly to decay or serve some other purpose, while newly chosen cities look for ways to build a new slate of limited-use facilities of their own.

Utah has avoided many of the problems associated with old venues by using them for competitions and as instructional sites for new athletes, and by setting aside money from the 2002 Games for upkeep and programs.

These sites will need some renovating and updating, and Utah organizers would have to build more venues to keep up with the new sports that have been added over the past 10 years. But the Salt Lake area is far ahead of most other potential host cities in that regard, with upgrades projected to cost $85 million — a fraction of the cost of starting from scratch.

While we applaud Herbert's decision to seek a second Olympics, it is important that Utahns have a clear-eyed understanding of the risks involved. They are considerably less than the last time around. Herbert believes the entire cost of the bid can be paid by private funds. Taxpayers would be less vulnerable than they were in 2002, and those games ended up turning a profit.

Many of the risks have to do with things beyond the control of any Olympic planner. While 2026 is only slightly more than 13 years away (given that the Games are held in February), much can happen in that time. Wars, economic turmoil and even natural disasters can interfere. If the games were held early next year, for instance, people would be concerned about the lack of snow.

These concerns were evident in 2002. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 had many Utahns anxious leading up to those Games. For a time, people speculated as to whether the games should be canceled. Instead, they were held under extraordinary security measures, with armed soldiers patrolling much of the city.

And yet the 2002 Games were an unqualified success. They added immeasurably to the stature of the Wasatch Front and its residents, and they have paid off richly in investments and tourism.

Of course the state should pursue another Olympic bid. The USOC and the IOC would be wise to return here so soon.

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