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Tom Clyde: Olympic repeat

Tom Clyde: Olympic repeat

Tom Clyde
  

Park Record columnist Tom Clyde.

The reports keep flowing that the Salt Lake bid to host the 2030 Olympics is moving ahead smoothly. The 2002 experience demonstrated the ability to host, and the facilities are all in place and fully functional. There are other cities interested, all of them also prior locations. What used to be a huge competition among cities trying to get the nod from the International Olympic Committee has toned down a lot. In fact, it’s getting difficult to find host cities. The benefits are largely intangible, and the costs are painfully real. It’s not a coincidence that the last Olympics ended up in China, where public opinion isn’t a problem.

If Salt Lake doesn’t get the 2030 bid, the 2034 bid is also in play. State leadership is all on board with it. The decision has been made and the State is plowing ahead at full speed. We’ve got the ski jumps, the bobsled track, ice sheets, mountains—we’ve got everything, except maybe a public consensus about it.

I was skeptical about the 2002 Olympics. The cost of the facilities seemed way out of line. There is no economic or environmental justification for a bobsled track, anywhere. I was quite happy with Utah’s position as a blank spot on the world map. The state did a poll to find out national perceptions of Utah, and discovered that there were none. Nobody had ever heard of the place. That was fine by me. But the State, Salt Lake, and Park City persevered over many years, losing the bid for 1998 and then succeeding in 2002. There was scandal, drama, corruption, a wonderfully successful event, and the aftermath.



The anxiety over it was pushed to the limit when the 9/11 attacks came in September, just a few months ahead of the Olympics. Should the Games happen at all? Is there a way to keep an event of that scale safe? What if nobody comes? In the end, it was a great time. I overcame my doubts and volunteered. I froze while enthusiastically watching events I cared nothing about, cheered for athletes I’d never heard of, and loved every minute of it. But I’m not sure I want to do it again.

Myles Rademan gave a great presentation at the Rotary Club about the past and current bid process. He was deeply involved in the 2002 Olympic planning. His conclusion, which makes sense, is that the Olympics are almost certainly coming to Utah again, and that means they are coming to Park City whether we like it or not. Nobody is going to build another ski jump or bobsled track somewhere else (well, the IOC would, if somebody else paid for it). So the discussion really isn’t whether we want the Olympics. The discussion needs to be what we want out of it, and whether we can shape it in a way that benefits the local community rather than tramples it.



My trepidation about the Olympics was, and is, all focused on growth. It’s impossible to prove one way or another that the growth we’ve seen in the last 20 years was caused by the Olympics, would have happened anyway, or maybe was accelerated by the Olympics. The State’s population grew from 2.2 million to 3.2 million people between 2000 and 2020. That 50% increase has changed the quality of life here forever. And not in a good way. It’s impossible to know if a second Olympics would accelerate things, but it’s a safe bet that it wouldn’t slow growth down.

The Olympics put Utah on the radar for the first time. After the Olympics, the national perception of Utah changed from “Huh?” to seeing Utah as a relatively normal place with a very high quality of life, ripe for pillage. The Olympic exposure spilled the beans. But it’s hard to imagine that any business looking for a new headquarters would be swayed by Utah having hosted the Olympics. I don’t think executives analyzed the suitability of several states—regulatory climate, taxes, transportation, labor force—and decided to move to Utah because we have a bobsled track. But because we had the Olympic bobsled track, and became known, Utah made it on the list of places to consider. The growth happened. It’s still happening.

It’s not all bad. A generation of kids has now grown up with the Olympics as part of life. When I was a kid, the idea of being an Olympic athlete never crossed my mind. It was something you saw on TV, not at the grocery store. It wasn’t real life. For the kids who grew up with that Olympic history, with gold medal winners living on the same cul-de-sac, it’s a life option that seems entirely plausible. The experience expanded the world of opportunities.

Looking back on the experience from 2002 and tsunami that came after, this feels like a decision that deserves a serious public discussion. It would be impossible for Park City to decline participation. The facilities are here and controlled by State-level agencies rather than local government. It will happen. It could happen to us or it could happen with us. We need to get involved and shape it in a way that benefits the local quality of life. The process so far seems designed to keep us out of it.


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