While Olympic venues sit mostly unused, Utah’s face a different problem

Jan 19, 2022, 8:39 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 6:22 pm
400804 40: (NEWSWEEK, US NEWS, MACLEANS AND GERMANY OUT) The Olympic flame burns at the Opening Cer...
400804 40: (NEWSWEEK, US NEWS, MACLEANS AND GERMANY OUT) The Olympic flame burns at the Opening Ceremony of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium February 8, 2002 in Salt Lake City, UT. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Olympic venues are the legacy of every host city. But Utah’s venues face the opposite situation of many around the world: They are almost too much in high-demand.

Consider Pyeyongchang, South Korea, where they spent $110 million on an Olympic stadium. They hosted four events, opening and closing ceremonies for the 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. Then they demolished the venue.

“Some of the other Olympic cities have what they call white elephants,” said Jeff Robbins, CEO of the Utah Sports Commission.

Those “white elephants” are well documented, here from financial website, Insider.

  • Pools from Athens 2004 now sit in disrepair.
  • In Sochi, Russia, the 2014 ski venues sit rarely used.
  • Venues from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil in 2016 look abandoned.

Here in Utah, our venues are four times busier now, than they were during the games.

“It is a living legacy,” said Colin Hilton, CEO of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation. “It’s facilities, but more importantly, it’s the people and our using the facilities.”

Hilton says it is an important distinction, because here, Olympic venues become not only elite training centers, but community rec centers for all ages and abilities.

The Legacy employs 200 full-time and 400 part-time employees with a goal to develop the next generation of athletes.

“We don’t just run the facilities, we employ the coaches, and that’s a huge distinguishing element,” Hilton said.

At one point, they worried there wouldn’t be enough participants. Now they struggle to keep up with demand. The Olympic Oval in Kearns, for example, operates nearly 20 hours a day. They open at 5am for national athlete training, then high school athletes, after school learn-to-skate programs, and hockey teams that play until midnight.

“We welcome the use, it’s a good problem to have,” said Hilton.

In addition, our venues have become tourist attractions. Eight hundred thousand visitors every year come to the Utah Olympic Park to watch aerialists fly off ramps into a pool or to ride a bobsled.

“I don’t think there’s any place in the world that’s been able to do what we’ve done,” said Robbins.

There have been other success stories. Atlanta’s Fountain of Rings park is still a popular family spot. And Beijing will spruce up its “birdnest,” which hosted the 2008 opening ceremonies, to use again in their upcoming games.

If the games return to Salt Lake, as expected in 2030 or 2034, our venues won’t have missed a beat.

“We’ve done a great job of being ready, willing and able,” said Robbins

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While Olympic venues sit mostly unused, Utah’s face a different problem