It has been nearly 20 years since the U.S. Olympic Committee submitted a bid to hold the Winter Olympics on American soil. That bid went down in both history and infamy -- Salt Lake City won the right to host the 2002 Games, but scandalous allegations later revealed the Salt Lake Organizing Committee had bribed members of the International Olympic Committee to the tune of millions of dollars, leading to widespread changes in both organizations.
Fast-forward to the present. If the USOC and IOC can resolve their current revenue-sharing dispute, an American bid to host the 2022 Winter Games could be submitted next year, with the USOC expected to decide over the next nine months whether it will submit one.
Anticipating that the IOC and USOC will come to terms, some of America's winter-sports epicenters are rapidly assembling political and logistical means in case the USOC decides to bid for the Games, which would lead to a domestic competition unlike any in recent history. The latest potential 2022 host was made public last Friday, when California and Nevada announced a joint interest in hosting the 2022 Olympics in the Reno-Lake Tahoe area, joining Denver, Salt Lake and Bozeman, Mont., which have already expressed similar intentions to varying degrees.
Not surprisingly, given the revenue-sharing dispute (among the contentious points, the U.S. has received 20 percent of the IOC's global sponsorship revenue in past Olympics, a share the IOC reportedly feels is too high), USOC spokesman Mark Jones would say little about the likelihood of his organization bidding for another Winter Olympics. "We are not currently contemplating" any bids, Jones said. He added that the revenue-sharing talks "are ongoing and positive."
For those in the ski and snowboard industry, the potential to see the 2022 Olympics on American snow is quite real, even with North America having staged two of the past three Winter Games, including Vancouver/Whistler-Blackcomb in 2010. (The 2014 Olympics will take place in Russia, and the 2018 Games in South Korea.) Due to the fact that Salt Lake hosted the Olympics so recently and that Bozeman's size and infrastructure are not nearly as extensive as the other potential bids, it's no stretch to picture Colorado competing with California/Nevada for the 2022 USOC bid.
A lot must happen before then, of course, and neither side is presuming anything just yet. "It's with genuine respect that I say there's no question when the United States -- if the United States goes to chase down a 2022 Olympic bid, if it were to come down to Colorado and the California-Nevada effort, boy, I think it'd be fantastic because as Americans we would be forwarding some of our best assets into the global scheme of things," said Squaw Valley CEO Andy Wirth, who is serving as interim chair of the Lake Tahoe Winter Games Exploratory Committee. "I think it'd be wonderful either way."
Wirth, the former chief marketing officer for Intrawest, worked on the 2010 Olympics at Whistler-Blackcomb; before that, he spent much of his career in Colorado, including a stint as vice president of marketing for Steamboat Ski Resort. He said many of the people who watched the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley still reside in the area, and that the buzz about a potential 2022 bid has been positive. "Who doesn't want to get caught up in the Olympic spirit?" he said.
Still, he believes it would be "inappropriate" to handicap the race at this point. "Really, this is about our team and our resources focusing on aligning the two-state efforts and being prepared to respond to the USOC should they make a call for a 2022 Winter Olympics." As for potential competition sites, he said: "I've been working closely with Blaise Carrig, who's my counterpart at Vail Resorts and has oversight responsibilities for Heavenly and Northstar, so we've been working collectively on this effort. Beyond that, it's speculative to think what venues would go where."
As for Colorado's status, Don Elliman, co-chair of the Denver Olympic Exploratory Committee, said last week he expects to submit a report to the mayor and governor "within the next 60 days" on whether Denver should pursue a bid. Denver famously was awarded the 1976 Winter Olympics but turned down the IOC after taxpayers voted against hosting the Games.
"I'm all for the United States being interested in hosting another Winter Games," Elliman said. "I think it's good for the Games and good for the United States. One of our desires that makes us different from Salt Lake and [California/Nevada] is we really didn't want to get out ahead of" the USOC's decision on whether to bid for the 2022 Games. "You want to respect [the USOC's] position on this. You don't want the city and the people to be clamoring to host the Olympics before the USOC has even decided if they're going to submit a bid."
After fielding bids next year, the IOC is expected to vote on the 2022 host city in 2015.