Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, Gov. Gary Herbert, Spencer Eccles and Sarah Hirschland, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, chat during a luncheon at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018.

The Olympic Games are always about hope. The hope of a young athlete in training. The hope of an aging competitor with one more shot at glory. The hope of a team in pursuit of a spot on the medal stand, and even the hope of a group of citizens wishing to welcome the world to the place they call home. While hope is important to each of these Olympic efforts — hope is not a strategy. Achieving ultimate success begins with hope, is launched with a strategy and ultimately delivered through an executable plan.

Currently, the U.S. and International Olympic committees are also hoping they can find a host city that provides the right place — with the right people and the right strategy — to deliver a ship-righting Winter Games in 2030. The Olympic movement needs some hope in the midst of a rough patch where host cities have struggled to survive financially, venues haven’t been maintained or maximized, corrupt opportunists have used the Olympics for their own profit.

Could Utah transcend hope and possibly transform and reinvent the way Olympic Games get done?

What the Olympic movement needs is a refresher course in the Utah model where hope, strategy and executable plans are the way we come together and get things done. That is precisely why the U.S. Olympic Committee is smart to come to Utah. A proven model, reliable partner and city tailor-made to deliver is just the cure for an ailing Olympic movement.


Utah gets the "hope" portion of the Olympics in a unique way. The possibility of welcoming the world and showcasing our beautiful state while cheering on the underdogs from every nation on earth strikes a chord in the hearts of Utahns. Being part of heroic Olympic stories is really the essences of living the Utah story — hard work, determination, overcoming adversity and winning with character. It is a hope-filled match made in heaven. But remember: Hope isn’t a strategy, and hope alone isn’t enough to justify a significant risk.


The ability to host a Winter Olympics is a byproduct of Utah’s strategy to be a premiere winter sports capital and not just an Olympic city.

That is an important distinction. An Olympic-only view is seen in the suffering of many former Olympic host cities whose short-sighted hope has left them struggling with mountains of debt. If the goal begins and ends with a torch and flame, the Olympic spirit is doomed to be snuffed out.

It should be noted that the state of Utah took a risk by raising funds through taxes before being awarded the Games. It was, however, a risk for a strategic vision of the future of Utah, not just an Olympic bid. The strategy paid off.

Part of the Utah model strategy includes the economic vision of Utah being an international destination and global business player. Utah continues to invest in things that matter. As a result, the state will have a superior airport, better access, infrastructure and proven venues than any potential host city — because this isn’t just hope for an Olympics: It is a strategy for the future of the state.

Executable plan

Utah showed it can deliver under seemingly impossible circumstances with a high degree of difficulty. In 2002, scandal had rocked the bidding process, 9/11 had shaken the nation and many advertisers and sponsors had tapped out as a result.

The Utah team proved adept at tackling tough issues from security, media and transportation to hospitality, housing and language translation. Every business, civic and religious organization engaged in meaningful ways. The community coming together and delivering on specific executables built momentum and restored the confidence of sponsors.

Other executables were dependent on somehow assembling an unprecedented army of volunteers. Mitt Romney, now senator-elect, invited the people of Utah to become part of an effort to save the Olympic movement. Within days, over 47,000 citizens had signed up to execute on deliverables large and small and to welcome the world to a very special place.

The strategic plan itself was based on much more than just breaking even or turning a profit — it was centered in creating a living legacy. After money was paid back to the state, and other costs covered, the rest was reinvested to ensure Utah would have the venues and appeal to continue to be a winter sports capital. The money currently still in the endowment totals $50 million.

The Utah model delivered a uniquely Utah moment and was a significant factor in saving the Olympic movement in 2002.

6 comments on this story

We are a long way away from 2002, and the challenges facing the Olympic movement and host cities are numerous and real. A decision to move forward cannot be based merely on the thrilling memories from 2002. There are countless questions yet to be answered before Utahns can fully back and confidently engage in a sprint toward a 2030 bid.

If there is hope for the future of the Olympic movement, it is most likely to be found and realized through the Utah model. Reinventing the way the Olympic Games get done is a hope worth exploring. It may be a vision that a Utah-style strategy and executable plan can deliver.