A local member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, the body responsible for choosing the nation's candidate for the games, said Salt Lake City has a good chance of hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics.
This possibility looms, despite a city investigation of Better Utah Inc., a non-profit agency helping to promote amateur sports and the subject of a recent financial audit questioning $20,160 in city money given to the Salt Lake agency."If I were a betting man, I'd probably bet on Salt Lake City, I think Salt Lake City has the inside track," said Henry Marsh, a USOC executive committee member living in Salt Lake City.
A successful bid nationally followed by selection by the International Olympic Committee could mean international recognition, thousands of jobs and millions of dollars for Utah's capital.
Salt Lake City tried in vain to be the 1994 U.S. bidder for the games, only to lose out to Anchorage, which lost the competition in the international selection in Seoul, South Korea, to Lillehammer, Norway.
The Winter Olympics will be held in 1992 and 1994 because the international committee agreed to stagger the competitions that normally fall every four years.
Anchorage was permitted to compete again to be recognized as the U.S. bidder for the 1998 games, along with Salt Lake City; Reno-Lake Tahoe, Nev.; and Lake Placid, New York, which hosted the winter games in 1980, Marsh said.
Salt Lake City has many of the necessary facilities to run the winter games, Marsh said, and has done a good job portraying itself to the USOC as a good candidate.
Salt Lake City has already hosted major sports events, such as the U.S. Gymnastics Team finals before the Summer Olympics in Seoul. "These events bring a lot of credibility to Salt Lake City before the USOC," Marsh said.
The Salt Lake City International Airport, adequate hotel space and the Anchorage, on the other hand, lacks some facilities and is too remote. Tahoe hasn't lobbied well with the USOC and has no experience with major sports events, and Lake Placid has poor transportation services, he said.
The USOC executive board will meet Nov. 15 in Minneapolis to evaluate who has the right to bid before the USOC. Committee members will visit competing cities in March and vote on a final selection in July, Marsh said.
The city is preparing to carry the torch to outbid other competitors in process by "reorganizing and revitalizing the Salt Lake Winter Games Organizing Committee, Mayor Palmer DePaulis told the City Council last week.
The group was organized in 1985 under then-Mayor Ted Wilson to pursue a 1992 Olympic bid. The committee is being jump-started, in part to position the city away from the controversy surrounding Better Utah, DePaulis said.
DePaulis said he is investigating a possible "breach of trust" at Better Utah, headed by David Johnson, who also directs the Utah Sports Foundation, the subject of another audit by the state.
"What I feared was that (controversy) would cloud our legitimate bid," DePaulis told the council. Marsh said the controversy won't be an issue in the minds of his colleagues on the USOC.
Tom Welch, head of the organizing committee as well as chairman of the organization audited by Salt Lake City, Better Utah, said the city's chances for a bid are good but "the burden is still on us to take it away from Anchorage."
If the city can bear that burden and ultimately win an Olympic venue from the International Olympic Committee, Utah could enjoy a wide range of benefits.
A 1985 feasibility study drafted by the city's Olympic organizing committee for its 1992 Winter Olympic bid estimated the city could see a total economic impact of $1.1 billion and nearly 23,000 full-time equivalent jobs from the games.