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Salt Lake City mayor says another Olympics is 'ours to lose'

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski left little doubt Tuesday about how she sees the city's chances of being selected over Denver and the Reno-Tahoe area as the American candidate to host a future Winter Games.

"It's really ours to lose," the mayor told members of the Olympic Exploratory Committee during a report on the U.S. Olympic Committee's new, accelerated process that will make the choice between the three cities by the end of the year.

Biskupski said as the site of the 2002 Winter Games, "we really have what is necessary to pull off an Olympic event. Obviously, Denver doesn't have everything and neither does Reno Tahoe. But we take nothing for granted."

FILE - Fireworks explode during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games closing ceremony Sunday, Feb. 24, 2002 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

FILE - Fireworks explode during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games closing ceremony Sunday, Feb. 24, 2002 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

While the USOC has not specified which Winter Games will be sought, it's likely to be 2030 and beyond. Before deciding, the USOC is expected to conduct day-long site visits to each of the bid cities before Thanksgiving.

The new bid process — described by another exploratory committee leader, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, as intended to save bid cities money — also includes polling to gauge public support and a detailed questionnaire about Olympic plans.

The decision by the USOC to move quickly, first reported by the Deseret News, has apparently resulted in the 15-year-old Reno Tahoe Winter Games Coalition reconsidering its bid.

In a statement, the coalition said it's reviewing the USOC's request for bid information that's due on Nov. 9 and will "only proceed if doing so makes sense for the entire region and has a viable business model."

Jon Killoran, the coalition's CEO, was attending a sports conference in Switzerland, and initially had no comment. Later, he said, "Timing is also a key component, both on the home front as well as the Olympic Games bid situation from cycle to cycle."

The head of Denver's Olympic exploratory committee, Rob Cohen, said the USOC will be told about recommendations "that any formal bid process should include a statewide vote of the people in the year 2020 or later."

Colorado voters rejected the 1976 Winter Games in a statewide vote in 1972, after being named the host by the International Olympic Committee. Now, former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm is spearheading a citywide referendum on a bid.

Brandon Rietheimer, campaign manager for the "Let Denver Vote" referendum to prohibit public spending on an Olympics without future voter approval, said the USOC's new timetable might end the effort to get on the May 2019 municipal ballot.

"If that did happen and it wasn't us, we probably wouldn't need to continue," Rietheimer said. He said referendum supporters had already collected about 1,000 of the 4,700 signatures necessary to put the issue before Denver voters next year.

"We voted it down in the 70s," he said. "There's been a lot of public interest."

Ed Hula, editor of the online international Olympic newsletter "Around the Rings," said given the talk of a referendum in Denver, "I think we default to Salt Lake City as a more welcoming, more accepting host of the Games than Denver would be."

Hula said the USOC's speeded-up selection process also benefits Salt Lake because "they've got the know how" as a result of hosting what is widely seen as the most successful Winter Games in 2002.

The focus of Tuesday's exploratory committee meeting, held at the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building, was on the importance of the upcoming site visit by USOC officials, which is still unscheduled.

"It gives us a chance to showcase Utah and tell a story more personally," said Jeff Robbins, Utah Sports Commission president and CEO. He said the brief visit will include stops at key Olympic venues as well as a reception and dinner.

Robbins said the price tag for Salt Lake's bid efforts so far is around $50,000, all from private sources. Most of the money has been spent on travel, he said, including last month's visit to the USOC headquarters in Colorado Springs.

The overall cost of hosting another Olympics was set by the committee earlier this year at just over $1.35 billion, less than in 2002 because pricey facilities such as the bobsled, luge and skeleton track are already in place.

Fraser Bullock, chief operating officer of the 2002 Games, reminded the committee of business, community and sports leaders that bidding is a long process. It will be five years before the International Olympic Committee chooses a host for 2030.

"This may be a 10-year road," Bullock said. "This is just the beginning."

Some have suggested Salt Lake could host another Winter Games sooner, in 2026.

The USOC has said it will not bid for the next Olympics to be awarded because Los Angeles is hosting the 2028 Summer Games and has domestic sponsorships locked up through that date.

But the IOC could be faced with no contenders for 2026. On Wednesday, Calgary's city council is expected to vote on pulling the Canadian city out of the running because local and national officials have failed to agree on funding.

Other cities still in the running for 2026 are Stockholm, Sweden, and a pair of Italian cities, although there are still questions about how much support there is in each of those countries.

The USOC's chief external affairs officer, Patrick Sandusky, tweeted what he called a "Media PSA on 2026 speculation" Tuesday.

"The USOC has expressed interest in bidding for future winter Games, but we are not involved in the 2026 campaign. Our current process … to identify a U.S. city is related to a future Games with multiple cities involved in those discussions," it said.