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Utah's hopes of hosting another Olympic Games on hold as USOC says no '22 bid

Published: Tuesday, July 3 2012 3:35 p.m. MDT

Fireworks explode during closing Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympic Games Closing ceremonies Sunday, Feb 24, 2002 at the Rice-Eccles Stadium. Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said Tuesday there may turn out to be good reasons not to go after another Winter Olympics in Utah.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's hopes of hosting another Winter Games are on hold with the U.S. Olympic Committee's surprise announcement Tuesday that there will not be an American bid for the 2022 Winter Games.

Members of Utah's Olympic Exploratory Committee, who just hours earlier were talking about releasing their recommendations in early August in anticipation of a year-end decision by the USOC, said they'll continue their work despite the bad news.

"There is going to be a time when the U.S. is going to pursue a Winter Games, and I think we should plan and make a determination whether Salt Lake City should be part of that mix," Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said. "It doesn't change us moving forward to try to make a good decision."

The USOC unanimously decided not to consider another bid until the 2024 Summer Games or the 2026 Winter Games. A working group will give an initial report on the best option to the USOC board in December.

"I don't think it was a decision not to bid for winter at all. It was a decision we could make a better bid," USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said. "We believe that exploring a bid for the 2024 or 2026 Games will give us the greatest opportunity for success."

Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, the lead co-chairman of the exploratory committee, said it appears the USOC is "putting their investment on a hope for the Summer Games. They're bigger, a big splash. That's their decision."

Bell said he was disappointed. He said if the exploratory committee recommends going forward with a bid, and Becker and Gov. Gary Herbert agree, a bid committee could still be put together quickly.

"But clearly," the lieutenant governor said, "they're going to have a little more time."

The exploratory committee was named by the governor last February on the 10-year anniversary of the start of the 2002 Winter Games to come up with a recommendation on whether to try for another Olympics.

The focus has been on 2022, the next Winter Games to be awarded, but it was not clear until the recent settlement of a longstanding revenue-sharing dispute between the USOC and the International Olympic Committee when the United States would be in a position to bid. 

Other cities that had been looking at a U.S. bid for 2022 included Denver and the Reno-Tahoe area.

Fraser Bullock, the former chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games, said waiting to bid for 2026 or beyond could boost Salt Lake City's chances of becoming a two-time Olympic host.

"It actually improves the odds for Salt Lake because it puts more distance between 2002," Bullock said. He said having hosted an Olympics 20 years earlier was Utah's "biggest liability" in seeking the 2022 Winter Games.

"We're on hold," Bullock said, urging backers of another bid to keep trying. "When a city pursues an Olympic Games they need to be patient because typically it can be more than one bid. The city needs to have a plan and be prepared to be a partner with the USOC but also to pursue this over a long period of time."

The IOC won't select the host of the 2026 Winter Games until 2019. 

Earlier Tuesday, members of the exploratory committee decided to make their findings public after the 2012 Summer Games in London end in early August. The committee originally was expected to come up with a recommendation on a bid by June, but changed that date after hiring a consultant. 

The lieutenant governor said the committee's closed-door review of the first draft of the consultant's report focused on technical issues and did not include a specific recommendation yet on bidding again.

"We don't want this to be foreordained or pre-cooked," Bell said. "We're not dealing with this on a 'sis-boom-ba' level. We're not doing cheerleading. We're asking really hard, technical, economic questions."

But he said he believes "ultimately, we will make a very good case for the Games. I will even go so far that should we go forward, we will win the Games."

Also earlier Tuesday, Becker said there may turn out to be good reasons not to go after another Winter Olympics in Utah.

"Actually, there are a number of things that, from my vantage point, are very serious considerations," the mayor said, including how much another bid would cost and who would pick up the tab. Other issues include the condition of the state's Olympic facilities.

"It's a major commitment on the part of a community and a state to pursue a Games again," Becker said. "That's the reason we're having, I think, a careful analysis done to take a look at those things. I can tell you for me that I'm anxious to really review that information in some detail and understand it from the point of view of whether or not we should pursue a Games."

The mayor noted there is no shortage of enthusiasm for another bid.

"We obviously have some very strong promoters, understandably. And people are excited given the experience we had with the 2002 Games," Becker said. "But in my mind, that does not mean we should necessarily pursue another Winter Olympic bid. There are a lot of things that go into it, and it's a very serious, expensive undertaking."

Contributing: John Daley

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com

Twitter: dnewspolitics

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