SALT LAKE CITY — The longtime head of Ski Utah is convinced that Salt Lake City is going to be picked over Denver to bid for a future Winter Games by the U.S. Olympic Committee on Friday.
"It's a no-brainer. We've got this great spot and we're ready to go," Nathan Rafferty, the ski industry organization's president and CEO, said during a newsmaker breakfast at the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
Rafferty said he's "very confident" Salt Lake City would prevail over Denver, which has proposed possibly using some of Utah's 2002 Winter Games venues such as the bobsled, skeleton and luge track near Park City during a Colorado-based Olympics.
"We're not going to partner with Colorado," he said, joking that "you can smoke marijuana there, but that's not an Olympic sport. We have everything we need here, so I'm not sure why we would do that."
But Rafferty also pointed out that Salt Lake City would face some significant challenges if the Olympics return, particularly when it comes to air quality along the Wasatch Front.
"The one thing I am fearful of and I know is coming is a serious look at our air problem. That will be the headline if we don't fix that," he said. "That's a problem for everybody."
Rafferty said Salt Lake City was in a unique position the last time it hosted the Winter Games because of the deadly terrorist attack on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
"We by and large got a pass on bad media. Patriotism was at an all-time high for the Games," he said. "We are not going to get a pass this year if this happens. We've got to take care of some of these issues, and No. 1 is air."
We don't compare ourselves to Denver. We focus on what we have to offer. Denver has a great proposal that they've put forward. We have a different proposal and we wish them the best. We're hopeful, however, that we are selected.
Fraser Bullock, a leader of the effort to bring the Olympics back to Utah and the chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games, agreed air quality needs to be addressed.
"We are hopeful between now and the time we host that one of the things the state can make progress on is air quality," he said. "Everybody recognizes how important it is to our community, not just the Olympics."
Bullock said that in 2002, a cold front came through the morning of the opening ceremonies at Rice-Eccles Stadium and the Winter Games were "spectacular in terms of blue skies and everything else."
He declined to comment on Denver as a competitor.
"We don't compare ourselves to Denver. We focus on what we have to offer. Denver has a great proposal that they've put forward. We have a different proposal and we wish them the best. We're hopeful, however, that we are selected," Bullock said.
The Colorado Springs-based USOC is set to discuss naming an American bid city during a closed-door board meeting Friday and announce its decision sometime that afternoon.
It is possible, however, that the decision could be to wait to name a bid city.
Much of the two days of meetings in San Francisco is expected to be focused on a newly released report questioning how the USOC handled sexual abuse allegations made against a USA Gymnastics team physician who is now in prison.
A statement from Patrick Sandusky, the USOC's chief external affairs officer, said only that the "board of directors will meet on Friday and likely make a decision regarding a future Winter Games bid."
Bullock said he is "reasonably confident we'll get an answer on Friday."
However, Ed Hula, editor of the Atlanta-based international online Olympic news source, "Around the Rings," said he sees just a 50-50 chance that a bid city will be chosen Friday because of the controversy surrounding the abuse report.
"I think if they had to make a choice, they would definitely go with Salt Lake City," Hula said. "But I think the optics might be better for the U.S. Olympic Committee at this point to keep a lid on that decision."
Both Salt Lake City and Denver are in the running since Reno-Tahoe dropped out after an accelerated bid process was announced that included a site visit by USOC officials and so far undisclosed polling to gauge community support.
Yet to be determined is which Winter Games the USOC would bid for, although 2030 is most likely. Next year, the International Olympic Committee will choose the site of the 2026 Winter Games.
Recently, the IOC ruled out awarding the 2030 Winter Games at the same time as 2026 because a number of cities have expressed interest, including Sapporo, Japan, and Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Stockholm, Sweden, along with Milan and Cortina d'Ampezzo in Italy, are competing for 2026, although there has been concern that those cities could join others that have had to pull out of the running because of a lack of backing.
The USOC has said there's no interest in 2026 because Los Angeles has already been selected to host the 2028 Summer Games and has domestic sponsorships locked up through that date. But Rafferty said Salt Lake City could do it.
"We could host the Olympics next year. I mean, you could make it happen," he said at the breakfast. "In a landscape where there are Olympic cities that are backing out on almost a weekly basis, it seems like we're the ones with our hand in the air."