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The committee aiming to bring the Winter Olympics back to Salt Lake City in 2030 or possibly 2034 considers Lindsey Vonn its “secret weapon.” She was in Lausanne, Switzerland last week with other representatives from the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Salt Lake 2030 Games to meet with the International Olympic Committee about the bid.
But Vonn is not the only Olympic gold medalist putting her name and fame behind the bid. Almost a dozen Olympians and Paralympians, including Olympic and Paralympic gold medalists Ted Ligety and Chris Waddell, are working with the bid committee to bring the Winter Games back to the Wasatch. Most have ties to Utah and its Olympic legacy, with many of them calling Salt Lake City and Park City home, including Vonn who sold her East Vail house in 2020 and purchased a 24-acre ranch overlooking Deer Valley and the Utah Olympic Park.
Ligety, a Park City native, knows first-hand the significance of hosting a home Olympics. As a teenager, he was selected to forerun the men’s slalom at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games. But his biggest moment was not skiing down into the stadium. It happened behind the scenes between runs when he was sitting at a table next to some of his ski heroes, like Bode Miller.
“They were talking like my 17-year-old buddies and I were between runs at a race, telling dirty jokes and giving each other gruff,” Ligety said. “When you’re a kid, you think these guys on the Olympic stage are robots or machines, and they’re like that all day. Seeing them on the biggest day of their life in competition being just like my buddies and I was an eye-opener.”
“It just made the whole thing seem achievable,” he added.
Achievable indeed. Four years later, Ligety won his first Olympic gold medal at the 2006 Torino Games.
Besides inspiring the next generation of Olympic champions, many of the athletes who competed in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics remember it as their favorite Games. It had one Olympic village where they could mingle with athletes from around the world, and all of the venues were relatively close together. At the most recent Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing, athletes were spread across multiple villages.
The Salt Lake 2030 bid is proposing to use all of the 2002 venues, which are still used for training and world-class competition, and the same athlete village on the University of Utah campus.
“You’re preparing for your biggest moment, and you’re able to have a bit of normalcy without a three-hour drive to the mountain or being isolated from the other athletes,” noted Chris Waddell of the convenience of the Utah Olympic venues. Waddell competed in four Paralympics, including the 2002 Games, and is now co-chair of the 2030 bid committee’s athlete advisory commission.
The athletes on the bid committee are also suggesting other small but meaningful athlete-centric changes to the 2030 Winter Games bid, such as helping families witness the Games—from obtaining tickets for the whole gang to providing transportation and easy access to the venues; siting medals plazas so athletes and their families can easily reach them (crucial for athletes like Mikaela Shiffrin who compete in multiple events throughout the Games and need to return to their accommodations for rest and recovery); and improving transportation for Olympians and Paralympians around the Olympic/Paralympic bubble.
An athlete-centric focus is so important to the Salt Lake 2030 committee that Vonn was appointed chair of athlete experience in the IOC meeting last week.
“I have a rather large family, and we’ve experienced some difficulties getting them to a lot of Olympic venues,” she said. “So I really hope to work together with the committee to make sure that the experience for both athletes and families is one of a kind.”
With the bid proposing to use mostly existing venues, the Salt Lake 2030 bid committee has the opportunity “to think bigger and to think about what is important to the athlete,” said Catherine Raney Norman, a four-time Olympian in speedskating and chair of Salt Lake 2030. She competed in the 1998, 2002, 2006, and 2010 Winter Olympics and moved to Salt Lake City in 2006.
The IOC has taken note of Salt Lake 2030’s athlete-centric bid, with IOC president Thomas Bach complimenting the committee on its approach “to build a new legacy on our legacy,” as Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake 2030 Committee, put it.
But the athlete focus—and Vonn’s participation—does not mean the Salt Lake 2030 bid is assured. With the U.S. hosting the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, it’s unlikely that the IOC will award back-to-back Games to the same country. In addition, domestic sponsorships might impact the fiscal feasibility of one country hosting two Olympic Games within 18 months. And with the cost of hosting an Olympics now in the multi-billions, it remains to be seen if the Salt Lake bid can withstand political and economic pressure.
The next decision comes in early December when the IOC executive committee will select one or two cities for the 2030 Winter Games. Previous Winter Games hosts Vancouver (2010) and Sapporo (1972) and 1992 Summer Games host Barcelona have also expressed interest in hosting the 2030 Olympics. The final vote by the full IOC membership for the 2030 Games, and possibly the 2034 Game as well, is slated for May 2023.
Raney Norman hopes that the athlete-centric focus will separate the Salt Lake 2030 bid from the others.
“But I’m an athlete, right?” she said, “so of course I think it does. But I do think it brings a different level of engagement, a more hands-on level of engagement. Hopefully that will differentiate us from the others.”