WINTER GAMES

IOC wraps up visit to Utah’s proposed 2034 Olympic venues

Apr 13, 2024, 2:38 PM | Updated: 8:59 pm

SALT LAKE CITY A pair of short track speedskating coaches at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns were eagerly waiting Friday for the arrival of the International Olympic Committee delegation in Utah visiting venues for a 2034 Winter Games, so they could catch up with a former teammate from China, who’s now an IOC member.

“We competed together. They are all my sisters. I am so happy to see my friends,” Hong Zhang told reporters after hugging and chatting in Chinese with Tianyu Fu and Li Geng. They trained with Zhang, who turned 36 Friday, until she switched to long track speedskating at 10 years old, winning China’s first gold medial in the sport in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Zhang, a member of the IOC’s Future Host Commission evaluating Utah’s readiness to host another Olympics, didn’t get a chance to try the ice at the oval, where she set a record for a Chinese athlete in the 500 meter race that still stands today. “I promise I will come back,” the IOC member since 2018 said.

Fu, who raced at the oval in the 2002 Winter Games, and Geng have both coached at the venue for several years. Geng, who coached Eunice Lee, the youngest speedskater on Team USA at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, said the prospect of another Olympics coming to Utah is “amazing.”

The IOC delegation, which includes IOC members, executives and staff as well as sports officials, received a private briefing at the oval as figure skaters as young as 6 years old twirled on the center ice sheets, then headed to what was expected to be a long meeting about the financial side of hosting.

The oval was the IOC delegation’s final venue stop after three days of being ferried from site to site, including Snowbasin in Huntsville earlier Friday. At the ski resort where all alpine skiing events would be held in 2034, they took the chairlift to the top of the Grizzly downhill run.

‘Wow, just wow’

“Wow. Just say, ‘Wow.’ It brought back all of the memories from ‘02,” said Austrian IOC member Karl Stoss, the chairman of the Future Host Commission. As the Austrian Olympic Committee president in 2002, he watched from home as one of his countryman won a gold medal at Snowbasin.

“It is so steep here, you couldn’t imagine if your are in front of a TV,” Stoss said. “If you see it in nature, that’s really amazing. It’s a beautiful area here. Fantastic.”

Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games that’s behind the bid, was clearly pleased with how the visit has gone.

“From my perspective, the IOC loves every minute of this visit,” Bullock told reporters. “Nothing is a sure thing, but I’d say we’re on a very, very strong track.”

Venues maintained

He credited the state’s “turnkey ready” venues, maintained for elite and community athletes for more than two decades with the help of a surplus from the 2002 Games as well as some taxpayer funding. But while Bullock said the IOC delegation loved the venues, the Utahns they met there made an even bigger impression.

“They see the passion of the people that are there. Every venue we go to, we have people that were there in ‘02 and the future people going forward. Then we also have young athletes,” the bid leader said. “They love to see the legacy of people and the enthusiasm.”

He joked the only mistake the bid committee made during the trip was not displaying the Austrian flag for Stoss at one of the venue stops. “We’ve corrected that,” Bullock said, pointing to Austria’s red and white flag hoisted in front of the distinctive oval building alongside the U.S. flag and Utah’s newly redesigned state flag.

It will be up to the IOC Executive Board whether Salt Lake City, already named the preferred host for 2034 under the new, less formal selection process being used for the first time, should get a final vote by the full membership anticipated on July 24, celebrated as Pioneer Day in Utah.

Contributing: Alex Cabrero

 

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IOC wraps up visit to Utah’s proposed 2034 Olympic venues