All of us have memories of when the Olympic movement first touched our lives. Mine was in 1986 when Tom Welch, then in charge of Utah’s Olympic bid, called the governor’s planning office, and I picked up the phone. He was calling from an airport payphone, on his way home from a United States Olympic Committee (USOC) meeting. The USOC had decided to drop Anchorage, Alaska, as the U.S. bid city and open up the competition to others. Tom wanted to know if he could count on the economists in the governor’s office to help prepare Salt Lake City’s bid. This phone call started a 32-year connection for me with Utah’s Olympic movement that continues today.
I think of this connection as an odyssey—a long, eventful and impactful journey. I helped with the original spreadsheets that calculated the revenue impact of diverting sales taxes to pay for construction of Olympic venues. I assisted with the estimates about the economic impact of hosting the Games. These technical tasks continued to crescendo to more meaningful experiences, as I moved from an analyst to a leader. By the time we hosted the games, I was serving on the governor’s senior team and as Gov. Michael Leavitt’s spokesperson. Today, I serve on the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation Board.
The journey has been filled with positive memories. I traveled to Greece with an official state delegation to witness the start of the torch relay. I visited U.S. cities as the torch relay made its way to Utah, and I hiked to Delicate Arch the morning the Today Show on NBC spotlighted the arrival of the flame to Utah. I’ll never forget the imagery: a freestanding arch, the snow-capped La Sal Mountains in the background, a TV helicopter in the air, and a Native American chief passing the flame from his torch to his granddaughter’s. The flame represents the indomitable will of the Olympic athletes. For all of us, it speaks to our own sense of enduring life’s challenges well.
I traveled to Washington, DC, after the tragedy of 9/11 to help secure additional security funding for our state and witnessed the concern of all involved. I stood in the Utah State Capitol the morning of Opening Ceremony and listened to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic after a moving speech by Pres. George W. Bush. Tears filled my eyes.
I sat in Rice Eccles Stadium for Opening Ceremony, glowing with pride as more than a billion people around the world focused on my hometown. During the games I helped with the “guest of state” hosting, which included ambassadors and heads of state from around the world and many inspiriting national leaders such as Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Rudy Giuliani and Condoleezza Rice.
And let’s not forget the brilliant athletes: Derek Parra shedding a tear on the medals’ platform, Apolo Anton Ohno getting back up after a nasty fall on the ice, and the brilliant Sarah Hughes skating the performance of her life to win the gold.
Utah hosted superb games and our entire state became better. We took the challenge, unified as a community and excelled under the bright spotlight of the world stage. Our collective confidence grew, and we developed a greater sense of purpose and self. Importantly, we showed the world our very best, whether it be volunteerism, extraordinary competency, natural beauty or our collaborative and friendly spirit.
Bringing the Games back home
This month, as the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics take center stage, the debate about Utah bidding for another Olympic Games will intensify. This debate will be fueled by the recommendation from the Utah Olympic Exploratory Committee that we should form a Candidature Committee and pursue the 2030 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
As we have this statewide discussion, there will be dozens of reasons put forward why we should host another Olympic Games. Some will say we should do it because 89 percent of Utahns support bidding for another Olympic Games.
Others will point out that Utah exemplifies the goal of the Olympic movement for a “peaceful and better world” united through sport. Since 2002, Salt Lake City has hosted 150 international winter sports competitions. Approximately 30 countries and more than 1,100 international athletes train or compete in Utah each year. An estimated 30 percent of Team USA competing in Korea have a Utah connection.
I find these reasons compelling, but none more compelling than what the Olympics will mean to those who didn’t experience fully, or at all, the Salt Lake City Olympic miracle.
I estimate approximately 700,000 to 800,000 people who live in Utah today were not here in 2002. That’s slightly less than the entire population today of Utah and Weber County. I want all of these people, and those who were too young during the 2002 Games, like my two children, to experience their own Olympic journey. I know it will be powerful and improve our people and our state.
The Olympic Games isn’t about ourselves. It’s about others, including our children and grandchildren. That’s the biggest reason we should pursue another Olympic Winter Games.
Banner photo by Steve Greenwood and courtesy of the Utah Office of Tourism.