It’s targeted dialogue, not an official bid award. It is not 100 percent confirmed and there will be steps still to take. But peel away the ifs and buts because for all intents and purposes, Salt Lake City will host the 2034 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
The International Olympic Committee’s Future Host Commission invited Salt Lake to targeted dialogue for 2034, the next step in ensuring the biggest winter sports event in the world will return to the region that previously hosted the 2002 Games. SLC-UT bid officials, athletes and community leaders exploded at the official announcement from the IOC during a watch party at the Salt Lake City and County Building on Wednesday.
“It’s pure elation,” SLT-UT President and Chief Executive Officer Fraser Bullock said. “I’m so happy for our communities that this is going to make such a big difference not only during the Games, but in the 10-year runup and then after. The Games can transform a community in so many ways.”
Future Host Commission Chair Karl Stoss made the announcement about Salt Lake for 2034 and the French Alps region for targeted dialogue with an eye toward the 2030 Games. The formal recommendations to the Executive Board should lead to an award at the IOC Session in July prior to the 2024 Paris Games; the potential official announcement for Salt Lake City could come on July 24, the state’s annual holiday.
“It’s really a dream come true,” Bullock said. “The Games in 2002, we worked so hard and they turned out so great. And now to be able to build on that and see that not only did we get one Games out of that effort, we’re going to get two.”
A Bid Focused on Certainties
The IOC’s feasibility study on the Salt Lake bid praised its 2002 legacy, including 100 percent use of existing venues that were used in 2002 and still maintained. There will be no significant capital investment required with the venue plan all within an hour of the main Athletes Village.
“Given the studies commissioned by the IOC on the potential impact of climate change on winter sports, Salt Lake City-Utah provides an opportunity to secure a traditional winter sports and climate-reliable destination well in advance of the Games,” the study said.
Wednesday’s announcement also gives local sports tourism professionals and national governing bodies the chance to capitalize on opportunities in multiple ways.
“We have a 10-year runway to get people excited about speedskating, get people excited about our athletes and get people excited about our events,” US Speedskating Executive Director Ted Morris. “I love that we have this 10-year runway to build even more excitement toward winter sports here in Utah.”
The region is already scheduled to host a series of national and international events in bobsled and skeleton, cross country skiing, short track and long track speedskating, freestyle and moguls skiing and biathlon throughout the winter.
“We will end up having an opportunity to host more events,” Utah Sports Commission President and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Robbins said. “We’re already doing 70-75 events a year, so we’ll look at this as an opportunity to do even more. After the next Games, that continues on and that’s how this Olympic and sport legacy was put in place.”
Hosting the Olympic Games in 2034 would make Salt Lake City the fifth city to host the Winter Games twice, joining Lake Placid, New York (1932 and 1980); St. Moritz, Switzerland (1928 and 1948); Innsbruck, Austria (1964 and 1976) and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, which hosted the 1956 Games and will co-host the 2026 Games with Milan.
The 2002 Games finished with a $40 million surplus that was used to form the Olympic Legacy Foundation, which has been operating the venues since and now will shift somewhat in its mission.
“This is new territory, a post-Games legacy foundation is now also going to be a pre-Games legacy foundation,” said Colin Hilton, president and chief executive officer of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation. “That’s very exhilarating for our staff who are so excited to build on what was ambitious goals back in the 1990s about not just putting on a great Games but having a legacy afterward.”
How the Salt Lake Bid Started
When Salt Lake started its journey to hosting the Games again, the USOPC selected it for a future Winter Games bid in December 2018 over a competing effort from Denver.
Salt Lake was as equally focused on 2030 as 2034 with competition coming from Vancouver and Sapporo. But Sapporo’s candidacy was wounded by a massive corruption and bid-rigging investigation stemming from the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games as officials from Sapporo and the Japanese Olympic Committee first paused their candidacy and eventually withdrew its bid because of the lack of public support. Vancouver’s bid was the first Indigenous-led bid process but it needed provincial guarantees to be viable and when British Columbia officials said it would not provide support, bid officials continued its work but were not seen as a viable candidate much longer.
That seemed to clear the field and make Salt Lake City the favorite but with the Summer Olympics in 2028 in Los Angeles, headwinds beyond the Salt Lake bid group’s control were shifting the focus beyond 2030. A bipartisan Congressional panel before the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing accused U.S-based sponsors of the IOC of putting profits ahead of human rights and the U.S. held a diplomatic boycott before the Games with several politicians criticizing the IOC.
“There’s some ill feelings to some extent about some of the geopolitical climate that surrounded the Beijing Games,” then-USOPC Board Chair Susanne Lyons said in June 2022 after a meeting with the IOC. “There’s still some unhappiness at the IOC not directed toward the USOPC or the Salt Lake bid commission, but toward the U.S. government in terms of what they perceive to be a lack of support for the IOC.”
There were also financial concerns on the IOC’s part of having the U.S. host back-to-back Games because of the overlap that would come in domestic marketing cycles for each U.S.-based Games. On its part, Salt Lake bid officials said they would be willing to step in for 2030 if there is no other viable alternative while stating a preference for 2034. Keeping that in mind, the IOC began a not-too-subtle recruiting effort to find other countries that would be interested in bidding for 2030, announcing in December 2022 it would postpone choosing a host. After the delay, three possibilities developed out of Europe in Sweden, Switzerland and France, leading to Wednesday’s decision for France in 2030.
Work on 2034 Already Underway
Its focus more turned toward 2034, bid officials became focused on working ahead of the pace the IOC expects of bidders with all contracts signed with venues, financial guarantees and more. The IOC wants 24,000 hotel rooms reserved for a Winter Games and Salt Lake’s work over the past year-plus has seen it already nearly reach that figure more than a decade ahead of time.
“In Salt Lake City, we’ve had a partner for three years now,” Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi said Wednesday. “They’ve been incredibly patient, incredibly thorough and were able to rally everyone behind what is a superb project.”
The SLC bid group’s main topics for its Games vision have been elevating communities by inspiring youth with Olympic and Paralympic values, accelerate sustainability and increase unity and inclusion; elevate sport for local communities, Team USA and international athletes coming to Utah; and elevate the Games experience for athletes, their families and spectators. Early plans include having local schools adopt countries ahead of the Games by learning their history, culture and more. Organizers said a future Games also could have one Athletes’ Village located at the University of Utah.
They have also developed the idea of an athlete’s family village to provide affordable access to housing, transportation and tickets so families can see their children realize their dreams. Bullock said last week the three main messages delivered to the Future Host Commission was having confidence in the bid group to deliver a great Games; the level of public and governmental support; and the passion the region has in utilizing the message of the Games.
Having multiple people who were first known to the IOC during the 2002 Games also has provided the IOC a level of comfort and security in Salt Lake City’s operational capability, Dubi admitted: “it gives certainty to the quality of the proposal that is being made from a technical standpoint.”
The work begins immediately for the SLC-UT governing and strategic boards, which meet on Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium, which would be the site of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies in 2034, as it was in 2002. A celebration at the Olympic and Paralympic Cauldron Plaza will feature Utah medalists from 2002 through 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. The bid group also made note of wanting future Olympic hopefuls to come to the event as well.
“We’ve been at this for 11 years and you have stayed with us the entire time,” SLC-UT Board Chair Catherine Raney Norman told Wednesday’s attendees. “For an athlete, you showing up tells us that you believe in us, you believe in our dreams. That’s huge. … To all of our young athletes who are out there dreaming, keep dreaming big. Because it’s coming. And we’re going to be here for you.”