The Olympic flame that was lit 15 years ago still burns bright for many of us in Utah. Just mention the 2002 Olympic Winter Games to a Utahn, and the excitement and enthusiasm that was ushered in all those years ago comes flooding back. At least, that’s how it is for me.
When I think of the Olympic Games, I marvel at how the games brought the people of this great state together. We found unity in our diversity when we shared with international visitors our understanding of different languages and dialects from around the globe. You could walk down the street and find dozens of Utahns sporting “I Speak” pins that highlighted the language or languages the pin-wearer spoke. We not only wore pins, but outside our homes we also flew flags of the nations and countries that we had either visited or that represented our ancestral homes.
It wasn’t just the 26,000 volunteers that were the face of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games—it was all of Utah. Every Utahn played a role in welcoming the world to Salt Lake City. People of all faiths and of Utah’s many ethnic groups joined together to show the world what makes Utah special and unique.
The 2002 Winter Olympics helped establish Salt Lake City as a worldwide destination, boosting tourism and branding the city as one of the top winter sporting venues in the world. Suffice it to say, the Beehive State still basks in the glow of what has been called the most successful Olympics in history.
Now we have the opportunity to do it all again.
Last month, an exploratory committee was created to decide if Salt Lake City will bid to host the Winter Olympics in either 2026 or 2030. The announcement came after Innsbruck, Austria said it would not bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics, and the announcement by the U.S. Olympic Committee board that it was moving forward with discussions on bringing the Winter Games to America. The USOC has until next March to pick a city. So far on the list: Salt Lake City, Denver and Reno.
Salt Lake City has what Denver and Reno don’t—world-class winter sports facilities. Utah already has the ski jumps, a bobsled/luge track and a speed-skating oval, all of which have been well maintained since 2002. We don’t need to build any additional venues; all we need to do is upgrade them. A study of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation found that it would take about $40 million dollars to do the job, and GOP legislative leaders have pledged the state can come up with money—money that won’t need to be repaid if Salt Lake hosts another financially successful Olympics.
On top of the world-class venues, Utah also has superb infrastructure that can manage the thousands of visitors another Olympics would bring. Prior to 2002, we expanded our highways and built light rail. Since then we’ve expanded TRAX and FrontRunner, and now we’re in the process of a $3 billion renovation of our international airport.
There’s never been a better time for Salt Lake City to host another Olympic Winter Games. So get out your pins and your blue berets, and let’s show the world that Utah’s capital city is once again, “ready, willing and able” to welcome the world.