Can anyone top Sochi's Winter Games? Should future host cities even try?

By Stephen Wilson

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Feb. 20 2014 8:29 a.m. MST

Oslo hosted the 1952 Winter Olympics, and the Norwegian town of Lillehammer staged the 1994 Games.

Oslo would seem to fit the mold perfectly. It is a secure choice with a winter sports tradition, existing facilities and an oil-rich economy to boot. Norway's bid also offers the legacy of Lillehammer, considered one of the best Winter Games ever, acclaimed for its colorful and passionate crowds.

Lillehammer, which will stage the 2016 Winter Youth Games, would host Alpine events in 2022. Lillehammer is about 180 kilometers (110 miles) north of Oslo.

"It will be a huge party," says Geir Sivertzen, a Norwegian fan wearing a Viking helmet and carrying a Norwegian flag in Sochi's mountain venue of Krasnaya Polyana. "The streets and arenas will be boiling. A colorful Olympics, I think we can promise."

However, the latest polls in Norway show that more than 50 percent oppose the bid, and the government still hasn't approved the required financial guarantees. Those factors leave the future of Oslo's bid up in the air.

CONTRIBUTING FACTORS

Almaty could be the one to watch.

A city of 1.5 million people in a mountainous region of Central Asia, Almaty is the commercial capital of the oil-rich former Soviet republic ruled by President Nursultan Nazarbayev since 1989.

Almaty also bid for the 2014 Games but failed to make the final short list. The city, which hosted the 2011 Asian Winter Games and will hold the Winter Universiade in 2017, says 90 percent of the competition venues already in place — including a new ski jump complex near the city center.

"We will use existing infrastructure," Andrey Kryukov, an executive board member of the Kazakhstan national Olympic Committee, said Thursday. "It will cost many, many times less than Sochi."

The Sochi project of building everything for the Olympics out of nothing seems to be a one-shot deal.

"We'll probably never, ever go to a place where everything is new," Canadian member Dick Pound says. "All other places tend to have some facilities."

Lurking in the background is the impact of climate change, an issue given new urgency by the balmy weather that prevailed through much of the Sochi Games. Temperatures have reached 17 C (63 F), causing concern for snow conditions.

"It is a factor, no question about it," Heiberg says. "We in the IOC must also look at the possibility: Will there be snow in this area or will there not? We need to go where we feel we are sure the snow will be present."

Scientists say rising temperatures could put the Winter Games at risk in the not-too-distant future.

"As the century unfolds, northern nations will have less and less certainty that they will have enough snow to host a Winter Olympics," says Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist from the University of Victoria in Canada.

Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer says it's likely enough snow will remain in some places through the rest of the 21st century to hold some Olympic competition.

"But the venues might be radically different," he says — "a lot less accessible and less amenable to host the kind of huge, circus-like event we hold today."

Follow Stephen Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/stevewilsonap

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