OLYMPIC UTAH

Olympic officials see ‘night and day’ difference in Salt Lake City since 2002 Games

Apr 11, 2024, 6:23 PM | Updated: 7:56 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — The last time Christophe Dubi was in Salt Lake City was during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, when the then-first-time host city was making its initial foray onto the world stage.

Now, the Swiss executive director of the Olympic Games is back in the Beehive State, along with other International Olympic Committee leaders, after the capital city was named the “preferred host” of the 2034 Olympic Games and Paralympics, and he is impressed with the way the city has grown up.

“When you leave a gap of 20 years … it’s not the same at all anymore,” Dubi said during a panel discussion at the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City Thursday. “I remember coming to Salt Lake some Sundays, and you would feel quite alone around because of the little residents that there was. … This is really night and day.”

Karl Stoss, Future Host Commission for the Olympic Winter Games chair, speaks at a community forum about the 2034 Games at the Eccles Theater as members of the International Olympic Committee’s Future Host Commission, IOC, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic leaders visit in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 11, 2024. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

And it’s not just the way the physical landscape has changed — with taller buildings and more infrastructure — but in the attitude of Utahns more than two decades on from hosting the games, Dubi said.

Rather than the excitement and trepidation as the state prepared for the Games in 2002, Dubi said he feels a “confidence” in the state and its capital city after having pulled off what was widely considered to be a successful turn as host.

Dubi recalled feeling the 2002 Games would be something different when he heard now-Sen. Mitt Romney — who led the Salt Lake Organizing Committee — break from the usual pageantry of the opening ceremonies to declare: “Is this a party or what?”

“Wow, this is (the) United States. This is different,” Dubi remembers thinking.

From ‘hidden gem’ to known quantity

 

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall was a newlywed the last time the Olympic Games came to town, and called the opportunity a “maturation” for the city and state.

“It was a recognition of our place in the world and our potential in the world,” she said.

Fraser Bullock, the CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, said it was an “opportunity for the world to see Utah really for the first time, because it was kind of this hidden gem. And we knew it was a gem, but … then when the world saw not only our beautiful mountains, but they saw fantastic people.”

Local leaders not only see the chance to host again in 2034 as a way to further cement Utah’s legacy on the world stage, but to continue the growth the state has seen in recent decades.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall listens as Christophe Dubi, Olympic Games executive director, speaks at a community forum about the 2034 Games at the Eccles Theater as members of the International Olympic Committee’s Future Host Commission, IOC, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic leaders visit in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 11, 2024. (

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall listens as Christophe Dubi, Olympic Games executive director, speaks at a community forum about the 2034 Games at the Eccles Theater as members of the International Olympic Committee’s Future Host Commission, IOC, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic leaders visit in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 11, 2024. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Natalie Gochnour, executive director at the University of Utah Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, estimates the economic impact of another successful Olympic Games could total $4 billion for the state and up to $15 billion in personal income. But, noting that economists “know the price of everything and the value of nothing,” she said the “true economic impact of the games is that living legacy that lives in the hearts of people.”

“It’s about hope, inspiration, confidence in ourselves,” Gochnour said. “That’s a huge benefit to our state.”

Mendenhall proudly noted many Utahns can still be seen wearing the “free volunteer swag” after 22 years.

Utah is known for its “service-oriented culture,” said Nubia Peña, and she was proud to see that legacy on full display when she visited the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.

“We were able to use this world stage to create unity, to inspire and also to welcome an international audience,” Peña, the director of the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs, said.

Sport as a ‘universal language’

 

That sense of unity is one of the goals of the Olympic Games, according to Karl Stoss, a member of the International Olympic Committee and chairman of the Future Host Commission. Stoss, who is Austrian, played up the friendly rivalry between his country and neighboring Switzerland by pointing out that Austrians earned six more medals than the Swiss during the Salt Lake City games.

The athletes who compete may come from different countries and represent different political beliefs or religions, but they’re united by the competition, according to Dubi.

“This is important for us and our community, to show the world that sport is just one language, a universal language,” Stoss said.

After two straight Olympic Games that were impacted by COVID-19, Catherine Raney Norman, a former Olympic speed skater and chairwoman of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, said the athletes themselves are “looking to come back together again” in the Olympic Village without pandemic restrictions. The 2024 Summer Games in Paris “will be a beautiful and almost joyous celebration,” she said, adding that same sense of togetherness will persist should Salt Lake City win the bid for 2034.

Should the stars align again for the city, Mendenhall expects that sense of unity will play out at a state and local level, as leaders work together to meet the demands of the moment. Government is normally — and intentionally — slow and plodding, she said, but “when we commit to a Games, we have a firm deadline” for leaders to make improvements that will benefit Utahns long after the Olympics.

“One of the greatest ways to feel like you’re part of something is to know what direction that something is going,” she said.

Touring the potential venues

Both committees also visited three venues that would be used for the 2034 Olympic Games; the Utah Olympic Park and Park City Mountain in Park City and the Soldier Hollow Nordic Center in Midway.

During the tours, members of the International Olympic Committee said they were amazed that Utah is still using every single venue from 2002 and even upgrading them.

At Soldier Hollow, one of the committee members, who had experience shooting clay pigeons, shot some targets after hearing the center hosted the BMW IBU World Cup Biathlon in March.

Committee members visiting the Soldier Hollow Nordic Center.

Committee members visiting the Soldier Hollow Nordic Center. (KSL TV)

After some quick coaching and support from her fellow members, she was able to hit some targets, which excited everyone and caused them to cheer. The fun and positivity felt during the visit is something that Stoss took note of.

“We could feel also the spirit from the people here. They bring it to the different venues and to talk about 2002 and what they are doing in the 22 years, and it is incredible what you have done and so you can look forward for the next 10 years,” Stoss said.

The committees also visited venues such as Utah Olympic Park’s bobsled, luge, and skeleton track, Park City Mountain Resort, and the National Ability Center.

Contributing: Alex Cabrero, KSL TV

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Olympic officials see ‘night and day’ difference in Salt Lake City since 2002 Games