The new Olympic Oval speedskating arena in Kearns.
But first it had to win over the voters, a process in which the Chamber became deeply involved. If they failed to persuade voters, it would mean the end of Utah’s Olympic dreams, said Governor Norm Bangerter. They predicted a tough campaign, but in November the referendum passed, and voters agreed to amass $56 million for the facilities, diverting 1/32 of a cent of sales tax to pay for it. Construction started.
Two months before the vote, on September 5, 1989, Craig Peterson, the city’s community and economic development director, moved over to the Bid Committee and became the first employee. He reported for a time to Fred Ball, who was vice chairman after the Des Moines vote. Welch and Dave Johnson concentrated on the international arena while Peterson presided over a growing staff. The Chamber was clearly out front at this point in the effort, Peterson says, but adds there was an effective merging of interests. The state concentrated on the facilities, the city went after the Games, and the Chamber was doing the fund raising and generating community support.
Salt Lake’s next target was June 1991 in Birmingham, England, where the IOC would select the city to host the 1998 Winter Olympics. Salt Lakers were confident about the potential for success. Boosters could easily rattle off Salt Lake’s bid strengths–the city had been bidding for many years, an International Airport was close to the city center, seven world class ski resorts were within forty minutes of downtown, and it would be the largest city to ever host a Winter Games.
Thus the bid committee was confident when the IOC met in Tokyo, Japan, in 1990 to announce the host of the 1996 Summer Olympics. Most observers believed that Athens, Greece, would win the IOC nod. The 1996 Games would commemorate the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympiad and Athens was the sentimental favorite because it had hosted the first Games.
When IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch announced that Atlanta, Georgia, would be the host city, most were shocked. Utah Governor Norm Bangerter said he felt that someone had kicked him in the stomach. “We knew that the IOC would not vote for two American cities in a row,” said Ball, believing that Salt Lake’s chances for 1998 were doomed.
Leaders decided to continue bidding. A new board and executive committee was formed. The Chamber continued with community involvement. “It would be hurtful for future bids if we dropped out of the race for 1998. We kept the course and worked hard with the IOC members. The meeting to announce the winning city was scheduled for Birmingham, England, in 1991. A large delegation attended the meeting and we hoped that by some miracle we might see the IOC vote concurrently for two North American cities,” Ball later wrote.
When the vote was announced, the winning city was Nagano, Japan. Salt Lake lost by a thin four-vote margin. Reporters said Salt Lake City was giving delegates boxes of salt-water taffy and Nagano was giving away Toyota automobiles.
Four more years
For four more years, the Olympic bid staff orchestrated a very personalized effort. Delegates were visited in their home cities. Every delegate was given an invitation to come and experience Utah. Many IOC members visited Utah and several came on more than one occasion.
Salt Lake’s target was June 15, 1995, in Budapest, Hungary. That was decision day for the 2002 announcement. The Chamber buzzed with activity during the four years leading up to the announcement. Chamber members attended regular morning bid briefings. Chamber leaders helped raise money. Limited-edition artwork pieces by Ray Magleby were signed and sold. Some pieces featured two gold medallions and sold for $5,000. Other pieces had silver medallions and these sold for $500.
The Chamber flew in Andrew Young, former Atlanta Mayor and United Nations Ambassador, to a fund-raising dinner. He had been instrumental in the Atlanta successful bid. The vice president of NBC Sports attended another event.
The 2002 contenders, Oestersund, Sweden; Sion, Switzerland; and Quebec City, Canada, offered Salt Lake stiff competition. Insiders thought that Sion was Salt Lake’s top competitor.
The air was filled with electricity as official delegations filed into the large hall in Hungary to hear the presentations and watch the IOC selection process. Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corridini and Welch made Salt Lake’s presentation. Hundreds of thousands watched via closed circuit hookups. In Utah, local television stations carried the broadcast live.
Finally, it was decision time. Samaranch stood on the podium and announced the frequently rebroadcast line, “The City to host the 2002 Winter Olympics is the city of Salt Lake City.” Pandemonium broke out both in Hungary and in Utah. There were cheers, tears, hugs, jumping, and unrestrained jubilation.
Salt Lake City received more votes on the very first ballot than the other three competing cities. Oestersund and Sion each received fourteen votes. Quebec City garnered seven votes. Salt Lake City received fifty-four. It was the first time in International Olympic history that a city had won on the first ballot.
When the party ended, the Chamber slipped into the wings as the Salt Lake Organizing Committee took center stage. Ball waited to retire until after the successful bid was announced.
Tears and triumph
Welch also left the scene, resigning because of family problems. Soon, however, the Games were tarnished by the “Salt Lake City scandal.” News media began reporting that bid committee leaders engaged in “bribing” IOC members in a variety of ways. The mounting negative publicity dogged the organizing efforts and ten members resigned, were suspended, or reprimanded. As sponsors withheld money and suspicions increased, worries surfaced that the Games would not go on. Welch and Johnson became the focus of a federal grand jury. Ball defends them. “They were asked to bring the Games to Utah and they accomplished the assignment by doing what other cities had done in the past,” Ball said.
Ethics investigations ensued. Eventually, Mitt Romney, a Massachusetts businessman and politician, was recruited to help restore confidence in the Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games. (After the Games ended, the Chamber honored Romney with its “A Giant in Our City Award,” in what was termed the last major event of the Olympics.)
The Games went on. On the way there, the Wasatch Front got a new freeway, a light-rail line, several winter sports venues, and a lot of free publicity, both negative and positive.
After all the intense preparation, the numbers help define what occurred during a fortnight in February, 2002. Some 4 billion television viewers watched the Games and 1.6 million tickets were sold. There were 70,000 visitors to the Olympic corridor a day, and the 15,000-seat grandstands at the venues routinely filled to capacity. Some 15,000 security personnel, assembled from agencies across the country, provided unparalleled security in the post-September 11 tragedy atmosphere.
The Games were the best attended, most watched, and most secure in history. At the closing ceremonies, Jacque Rogge, IOC president, proclaimed that Salt Lake City hosted a “superb” Games. After all of the years of bid campaigns, preparation and anticipation, most Utahns agreed they ended all too soon.
Sources: Fred Ball typescript in Chamber offices. Interview with Craig Peterson, June 25, 2002. “Salt Lake Gains ‘76 Winter Olympics Nod,” Deseret News, 4 January 1973. “Garn To Take 5 Delegates to See Nixon,” Deseret News, January 6, 1973. “S.L. Mayor Withdraws Olympic Bid,” Deseret News, 30 January, 1973. Hack Miller, “World Knows We’re Poor,” Deseret News, 8 February 1973. “Will Olympics come to SLC? It’s possible,” Deseret News, 3 March 1984. “Anchorage wins ‘92 Olympic bid; a stunned S.L. comes in second,” Deseret News, 16 June 1985. “S.L.’s win comes at expense of 2-time winner Anchorage,” Deseret News, 5 June 1989. “Salt Lake’s Commitment on Training Facilities Called Key to Success,” Deseret News 5 June 1989. “Welch Vows big Victory for Referendum,” Deseret News 6 June 1989. “S.L. Official Switches Jobs,” Deseret News 4 September 1989. Lee Benson and Ray Grass, eds., 2002 Salt Lake City (Salt Lake City: Deseret News; 2002)