SOCHI, Russia – Scott Blackmun, the CEO of the United States Olympic Committee, was asked Saturday about whether there were any plans for one of the northern U.S. cities to make a bid to host the Winter Games in 2026.
Blackmun noted the recent snowy weather back in the States and figured there was no reason to be geographically restrictive.
"Now Atlanta is in the mix for a [Winter] bid," he joked.
The truth is, the USOC isn't sure exactly when it is even going have a U.S. city enter the IOC bidding process again, let alone when the Olympics might return to America.
The last Olympics on U.S. soil were the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. With future bids set – or the process too far advanced – the first opportunity for a return is the 2024 Summer Games, a gap of at least 22 years. That's the longest such stretch since the 28 years between the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Games and the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Games.
The U.S. has hosted eight Olympics in all, including four from 1980 to 2002. Suddenly, there is nothing.
Where and when the next one will be is the question. The USOC doesn't even know if it will mount a bid soon, perhaps still smarting after Chicago's seemingly strong effort to get the 2016 Summer Games wound up fourth out of the final four. The winner was Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
"We are evaluating now whether we want to bid for 2024 [Summer Games]," Blackmun said. "We're talking to a handful of cities, and if we determine that a 2024 bid is not in the interest of the Olympic movement in the U.S., then we will shift our analysis to whether or not the 2026 [Winter Games] makes sense."
In other words, your guess is as good as the USOC's.
Rio will host the 2016 Summer Games; PyeongChang, South Korea, the 2018 Winter Games; and Tokyo the 2020 Summer Games. The location of the 2022 Winter Games has yet to be determined, but the process is in the final stages, with Oslo, Norway, and Almaty, Kazakhstan, as the perceived favorites.
There are myriad challenges in getting the Olympics back to the United States.
There's the high expense, even if perception can often be greater than reality and the Olympics can even be profitable against operational costs.
There's concern over inconvenience, environmental impact and security among the public, especially in world-class cities such as New York that aren't in need of a public-relations boost and may be less than eager to draw a terrorist bull's-eye on them.
There is the lack of federal backing. Not only is the USOC the only non-government-funded organization of its ilk – due to the partisan political culture of Washington – but you won't see a sitting president truly go to the wall for a bid as in other nations. It's not worth the backlash. The IOC likes to be courted … and to have huge public works projects put into play.
Then there is the frustrating bid process and voting tendencies of the elites from the IOC, where wining and dining, horse-trading and even alleged bribes or favored business deals tend to win out. The U.S. isn't alone in that complaint.
The single best bid the U.S. could put out there is to have Salt Lake City host the Winter Olympics again – the infrastructure and venues are already in place, so costs would be minimal. The IOC, however, tends to frown on returning quickly to host cities. Places such as Los Angeles (twice) and London (three times) have hosted multiple games, but 40 or 50 years apart.
It would be easier if they rotated around to a few ideal spots, the way the Super Bowl and Final Four do. Instead IOC arrogance asks for a new city, which might be limited – Atlanta jokes aside – to either Denver/Aspen or Lake Tahoe/Reno. Each would require plenty of work, basically starting from scratch.
The United States' best bet for the 2024 Summer Games is probably San Francisco, which aligns with sophisticated IOC tastes. That would, however, also require a major buildup of facilities – essentially getting the region or the state of California to build new stadiums in the area of the East Bay currently used by the Oakland Raiders and Athletics. Then there would be a host of other smaller competition venues.
Considering how endless the battle has been to get a relatively simple basketball arena built in San Francisco for the NBA's Golden State Warriors, that seems a challenge.
Almost any new construction or altering of San Francisco in any way generates protests and local opposition. Places such as Russia and China can bulldoze through that. It's not so easy in Northern California. And did we mention the traffic? Or the environmental questions?
Finding the right city, with the right climate, with the right majority of local support is the forever challenge.
When Chicago lost its bid, badly, despite being set up as an ideal summer host, momentum in America seemed to slow down.
The IOC can shrug. They'd prefer to return to the U.S. because of its wealth and number of corporate and media partners.
However, there appears to be an endless parade of developing areas that are so desperate for the attention and credibility the Games provide that they are willing to do nearly anything to gain favor.
Each Olympics seems to get bigger, more opulent and more expensive. Here in Sochi, the Russian government displaced citizens and built an entire Olympic Park from scratch along the Black Sea. The cost, Russia says, is $51 billion. What will remain behind of any use remains to be seen.
PyeongChang, South Korea, has budgeted $9 billion for the next Winter Games, infrastructure included, but it's a reasonable price to get introduced on a global stage.
"Thirty years ago the world saw the developing country of Korea through the 1988 Games in Seoul," said Jin-sun Kim, president of the organizing committee. "In 2018, the world will be able to see a truly developed country of Korea through the Pyeongchang Games."
For South Korea that might be worth the money. Would a city in America feel the same way, especially when the billions might not include federal backing? Is the U.S. eager enough anymore?
Even if the U.S. tried, can they even beat these nations' willing to do virtually anything for the Olympics? Beijing spent billions on the 2008 Summer Games, and even though many of the venues now sit empty and rotting, it is bidding for the 2022 Winter Games. One problem is the Chinese capital sits some 120 miles from any usable mountains.
China's solution? Government construction of a ultra-high-speed rail capable of cutting travel time to a little over a half an hour.
Think we could run one of those from Atlanta to Vail?
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