Globetrotting by Philip Hersh
10:40 AM AKDT, August 22, 2011
There is no doubt when and where the next Olympics in the United States should be.
Denver and its region have everything they need to host the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.
Much more, in fact, than the city and region could have offered when they threw back the 1976 Olympics because a statewide referendum rejected a $5 million bond issue to finance the Winter Games 2 1/2 years after the International Olympic Committee chose Denver.
And now that the U.S. Olympic Committee has made the expected decision not to bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics, it is time for USOC officials to see if Denver's expressed interest in the 2022 Winter Games is sincere.
I know the USOC's mantra is there will be no bid for any Olympics before it can resolve the longstanding dispute with the IOC over revenue sharing. If no solution can be found before 2022 bids are due in 2013, there may never be one.
Assuming that money problem is ironed out and assuming Denver is in for both a dime and a lot of dollars, there would be no reason for the USOC to have a domestic bid process. It should simply begin working with Denver to have the best possible bid when the International Olympic Committee selects the 2022 host sometime in 2015.
And here are 10 reasons why.
1. Denver -- and the Colorado ski resorts - would have to build just two items of consequence to have a Winter Olympics.
One is a bob / luge / skeleton run, a costly potential white elephant.
But a partnership with the Air Force Academy to build that facility on its land in Colorado Springs would make it more attractive and useful. That would allow sliding athletes from the United States -- and the rest of the world -- to live at the nearby Olympic Training Center while training or competing on the run.
The 7,000-foot altitude would make it easier to keep the run frozen, even with Colorado's abundant sunshine. And it's a relatively easy drive from Denver, so the lower sections could be turned into a family fun ride when elite athletes weren't using it.
Making the training center available to foreign athletes (who could train for figure skating and short track at the World Arena in Colorado Springs) in the years before a Colorado Olympics would fit right into the USOC's new emphasis on improved international relations.
For long-track speedskating, why not either a temporary facility or one like the 2010 Olympic venue in Richmond, B.C., which since has become a multi-purpose sports and fitness center used for basketball, indoor soccer, hockey, badminton, indoor track, table tennis, volleyball, rowing and paddling, all of which can take place simultaneously?
2. Denver still was a low-energy cow town in the mid-1970s. I learned that while waiting for a taxi on a center city street during a Friday afternoon rush hour. Not a single cab, occupied or unoccupied, passed in a 10-minute span.
Now it is a gleaming city with vibrant downtown areas and arenas / stadiums hosting major league baseball, football, hockey and basketball teams, plus the facilities of Denver University.
And it has a major international airport (alas, seemingly in Kansas), with non-stop flights to Europe and easy connections to Asia through West Coast hubs. With the growth of Asian economies, it is not a stretch to imagine non-stops to Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo in the near future.
3. The USOC long has had a good working relationship with many elected officials in Denver and Colorado. That could help avoid the frictions that occurred between USOC leaders and bid officials in New York (2012) and Chicago (2016) after the USOC chose those cities to bid (in vain) for the Summer Olympics.
4. Could there be a better site for alpine skiing than Vail - Beaver Creek? The world championships took place there in 1999 and will again in 2015.
Vail is 100 miles from Denver, but nearly all is on I-70. Winter driving in the Rockies can be tricky, and snow has been known to close Vail Pass, but thousands make the trip nearly every weekend in the ski season.
Plus, there long has been talk of alternative transportation to Vail. The 1992 Albertville Olympics brought high-speed rail into the hub of the French Alps. Could a 2022 Denver Olympics do the same for Colorado, boosting its tourism industry?
5. Resorts closer to Denver could handle freestyle skiing, slopestyle and snow boarding. Winter Park (66 miles away) or Copper Mountain (77 miles) are possibilities. Amtrak's California Zephyr already has a stop near Winter Park; more trains presumably could be added on that line. Tracks from ski trains that ran into Winter Park until a few years ago still are used by freight traffic.
6. Steamboat Springs, which advertises itself as the home of 79 Olympians, is the obvious site for ski jumping and cross-country skiing. It already has ski jump hills that meet international ski federation standards. Steamboat's only drawback is being relatively remote -- 160 miles from Denver and about 90 from I-70.
7. A Winter OIympics would bring just as much benefit to the USOC as a Summer Games. Certainly, the TV revenue would be less, but the exposure and sponsor interest would probably be the same.
And, weather aside, the Winter Games are so much easier to stage than the Summer Games. Winter is a dinner party for eight. Summer is a dinner party for 1,000.
8. Although IOC voting for host cities is notoriously unpredictable and often swayed by filthy lucre, it seems likely the United States has little chance at a Summer Olympics until 2028 if, as expected, Paris wants to host 2024 to mark the centenary of its last Olympics.
The best Summer Games bet for the USOC would be to wait for 2032 and have Los Angeles bid to mark the centenary of its first Olympics. That's a long wait.
9. Even though many IOC members have long memories and a stunning ability to harbor old resentments, few are likely to hold Denver's Olympic history against a 2022 bid. (Plus, only five current IOC members were members in the 1970s, just two when Denver got and turned back the Games, which went to Innsbruck, Austria.)
Certainly, some will object about the distances involved. But nearly all recent Winter Games have been split between a city and relatively far-flung mountains. The 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, will be an exception, but the tradeoff there is mountains so low and so near the sea that weather could have a dramatic negative impact on alpine skiing.
(Salt Lake City actually was the perfect blend of city and nearby mountains, and a group there has shown interest in a 2022 bid. But it is hard to imagine the IOC returning just 20 years after the 2002 Winter Games, unless its members really mean what they say about keeping host city costs down, since Salt Lake already has the needed facilities.)
10. There is no guarantee Colorado residents won't have as mixed feelings about 2022 as they did about 1976, when both money and environmental concerns played into the referendum's defeat.
But in a state where ski tourism has become increasingly important and developed -- and, in this era of plane travel, Colorado is far more accessible to Europeans, South Americans and Asians than it was 35 years ago -- the global exposure from a Winter Games should be significant economically.
Expanded train service should be a selling point to environmentalists.
So why bother with a costly and time-consuming domestic competition? If Denver wants to bid and can show that a majority of Coloradans support the idea, the USOC need go only 70 miles up the road from its headquarters to find the country's next Olympic host.