Utah’s Olympic Legacy Foundation Still in the Game(s)

Colin Hilton (r) of Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation with Natalie Gochnour at the Kem Gardner Policy Institute. Wednesday, Feb 14, 2018

While the 23rd Winter Olympiad is still underway in PyeongChang South Korea, Salt Lake City and its Olympics boosters are slip-streaming the public’s enthusiasm by continuing to carry their own torch. Further discussions regarding considerations to host another Winter Games have captivated Utah where widespread enthusiasm remains for the Olympic spirit.

The Legacy Foundation’s Legacy Officer

Colin Hilton, the chief executive of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, is steeped in the traditions and the management of athletic competition. Beginning in his hometown of Buffalo, New York where he helped develop the interest of soccer as a competitive and a spectator sport, then on to assist with the summer games hosted in Atlanta, and ultimately in 1999 with the organizing committee which brought the winter games to Utah in 2002. Hilton now oversees not only the “Legacy Fund” of some $76 million, but how that money translates into facility upkeep and management, as well as his favorite part, over 50 ongoing programs and events that keep the spirit alive in Utah. For the 2002 winter games, key venues were developed in public and private partnerships which included the Olympic Sports Park, in Summit County, the Olympic Oval in Kearns, and the Soldier Hollow Nordic Center in Midway, where biathlon and Nordic skiing competitions occur (as well as summertime events like the International Sheepdog Competitions held on Labor Day weekend). The venues are still busy with visitors, competitors, and ongoing programs.

More Athletic Training in Summer and Fall

On Wednesday, Hilton explained to an audience of about 40 people at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute that Utah’s facilities are supportive of the Utah centers by international athletes who indicate that the legacy aspect is unheard of at other places. As an example, Hilton cited the current Olympic Team USA now competing in South Korea as including a total of 244 athletes, 77 (or roughly 30 percent) of whom call Utah their home; of those, “5 to 8 were born in Utah,” he said, “The Foundation’s desire is to create Olympians.” Recent accounts of 2018 speedskater Jerica Tandiman whose first experience with the sport was as a seven year old spectator at the 2002 games where the Olympic Oval was built in a field next to her house. Hilton said he can think of no finer example of the work that his foundation has been doing, although there are more.

Competition with Upcoming Bids with Denver, Colorado

Andrea Nahrgang competes in the 2002 Olympic biathlon at Soldier Hollow

Recent reports have indicated that the International Olympic Organizing Committee has suggested that since the summer games for 2024 will be held in Los Angeles (also a multi-game repeat locale) the sanctioning body would likely not award the subsequent winter games in 2026 to another American location. The problem with that, Hilton’s foundation and Exploratory Committee members explain, is the lack of enthusiasm at other locales compared to Utah’s burning desire to light the flame again. Polling has indicated that over 80 percent of Utahns find the idea of hosting another winter games as desirable and enjoyable. With the possible exception of the Swiss, Hilton said a lack of interest permeates Western Europe where the means to develop sites and ongoing public participation is sufficient for a winning proposal. Add to this, the IOC’s new requirements for locales expecting to organize a successful bid (one was that hosting cities be able to contain most transportation, competition and infrastructure within a five-mile radius), and the interest in exploratory committees begins to chill. Those familiar with Hilton’s foundation and the exploratory committee have identified potential competition for the upcoming hosting cities as Denver; St. Moritz, Switzerland; Stockholm, Sweden; Sapporo, Japan; and possibly Calgary, Alberta, Canada. None can mount 2026 or 2030 games as effectively or efficiently (read “inexpensively”) as Salt Lake, Hilton maintains.

To be able to transform the Olympic movement within its site selection efforts, Hilton feels that the International Olympic Committee would need to really “look closely at places that have naturally occurring snow,” he said. When asked about the effects cited with changing climates and seasonal snow production over time, a quick reference to the current development of snowmaking technologies made climate concerns more manageable, given temperatures cold enough (again, elevation) to cooperate with manufacturing snow. “In Utah, currently Soldier Hollow is the lowest elevation (5,882 ft or 1,793 m) of all of the previously used competition sites in our state.”

Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert (center) with the state’s Travel & Tourism officers during the first week of the 2018 legislative session.

Utah Needs A Win

Due to disagreement with the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, in 2017 the longstanding Outdoor Retailers convention relocated from Salt Lake City to Denver when push came to shove over Utah’s stance on National Monuments and public lands within the state. The $2.2 billion manufacturing and service economy showplace, coupled with travel and tourism economics, pulled up its stakes for Colorado which had established a more favorable business climate. When asked about the competitive effects of a bid against Denver and the recent defection of the Outdoor Retailer industry, Hilton was more circumspect about his comments, saying only that the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation and the exploratory committee would continue to showcase and promote the Beehive State and its assets, including favorable participation from commercial, governmental and public interests in Utah.

Utah’s Olympic and Paralympic Exploratory Committee Report can be found here.

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