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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is closer to getting another Olympics Friday after the U.S. Olympic Committee selected Salt Lake City to bid on behalf of the United States for a future Winter Games, potentially in 2030.
Salt Lake City, the host of the 2002 Winter Games, beat out Denver. Reno-Tahoe dropped out of the running recently in the competition. The decision was made by the USOC at a closed-door meeting in San Francisco.
It will be the International Olympic Committee that chooses the 2030 host city — but not until 2023. Other cities currently in the mix include Sapporo, Japan, and Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Even before the USOC's decision was made public, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski could be heard cheering from behind closed doors at City Hall. The USOC notified both Salt Lake and Denver bidders by telephone.
“We are so grateful that Salt Lake City and this state of Utah were chosen,” the mayor said during a news conference at City Hall before toasting the win with flutes of red and white grape juice.
Gov. Gary Herbert said amid the celebration that it would be hard to overstate the impact of hosting in 2002, a "coming out party" that showed the world "the sophistication of Utah. We're not just a country-bumpkin, little Western state."
Now, the governor said, they'd be able to see all the changes being made since 2002, including the more than $3 billion rebuild of Salt Lake City International Airport, while experiencing the same strong sense of volunteerism from Utahns.
The USOC stopped short of committing to a 2030 bid.
Sarah Hirshland, the USOC's new CEO, told reporters during a telephonic news conference after the board meeting that there is no "active process of bidding that will take place so in some regards, we have the luxury of time."
The Colorado Springs-based organization did express enthusiasm for Salt Lake.
“We’re incredibly lucky to have multiple able and willing cities to choose from, but in the end, we believe Salt Lake City will give us the best chance to return the Winter Games to the U.S.," USOC Chairman Larry Probst said in a statement.
Utah is one step closer to hosting the Olympic Winter Games again. Winter sports run in our veins. We’re proud to have the greatest snow on earth and the fastest speed skating ice in the world, and we would love to once again welcome the world's athletes to Salt Lake City. pic.twitter.com/uDN0oyqEDE— Gov. Gary Herbert (@GovHerbert) December 14, 2018
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox was less diplomatic in a tweet that repeated "Don't say it" multiple times before ending with, "Suck it, Denver!" He quickly followed with another tweet, "(Really just kidding Denver … you guys are great!)"
The price tag for another Winter Games in Utah is now at $1.4 billion, money that would come from selling sponsorships, tickets and broadcast rights rather than state or local taxpayers, backers say.
The only tax dollars needed would be from the federal government for security, according to the bid submitted to the USOC. It also calls for using the same venues as the 2002 Winter Games, although Biskupski said that could change.
The mayor said as part of the effort to provide "an entirely new Games experience" from 2002, some ice hockey matches could be held outside, possibly at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, home to the Real Salt Lake major league soccer team.
"There's a ton of potential for delivering these Games in a greater way," Biskupski said. "Great things are happening to really create a different feel and look to the Games."
Denver's bid included the option of using competition facilities outside of Colorado as a cost-saving measure, such as the bobsled, luge and skeleton track near Park City and the speedskating oval in Kearns.
Rob Cohen, chairman of the Denver and Colorado Winter Games Exploratory Committee, said he was proud of what he described as a "new and unique model" for hosting an Olympics.
"We proposed hosting the Games in a new and innovative way, the Colorado Way, but we recognize that now may not be the right time for such a model," Cohen said in a statement.
He expressed disappointment "that one of the world’s great winter sports destinations will not have the opportunity to partner with the USOC on a future bid," but also congratulated Salt Lake City.
"We fully support the United States’ pursuit of a future Winter Games, as this is now America’s bid," Cohen said.
The bid process was accelerated by the USOC this fall, requiring cities to submit a detailed workbook about what a Games would look like by early November. USOC officials also visited both bid cities and conducted polling to gauge public support.
The results of the USOC polling have not been released, but 89 percent of Utahns said a year ago they wanted to host another Winter Games in a poll conducted for the state's Olympic Exploratory Committee.
The exploratory committee that included Herbert, Biskupski and legislative leaders unanimously backed another bid at the beginning of the year.
Salt Lake City has been ready to bid again since 2012, but the USOC's focus was on landing a Summer Games. That finally happened in 2017, when Los Angeles was selected to host the 2028 Summer Games in an unusual dual bid award.
Because Los Angeles has domestic Olympic sponsorships locked up through 2028, the USOC has made it clear there's no interest in putting up an American city for the 2026 Winter Games, set to be named next year by the IOC.
Two weeks ago, IOC President Thomas Bach has ruled out choosing hosts for both the 2026 and 2030 Winter Games at the same time, saying all the cities interested in 2030 should be given a fair chance.
Fraser Bullock, a leader of the effort to bring the Olympics back to Utah and the chief operating officer of the 2002 Games, said a formal bid committee won't be formed right away.
"The campaign actually starts now, in a low-key way, because there's so much work to do," Bullock said. "But it really gears up about two years before" the IOC makes its pick in 2023.
Three-time Olympian Catherine Raney Norman, a long track speedskater who competed in the 2002 Winter Games, became emotional talking at the news conference about what another Utah Olympics would mean to her 1 1/2-year-old son.
"I'm thrilled that he'll get to experience this," she said.
Sen.-elect Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who was brought to the state to take over the 2002 Winter Games after an international scandal surfaced involving Salt Lake bidders and the IOC, offered his congratulations.
"SLC 2030 is the right choice. Utah is ready, willing and more than able to once again host the world and its extraordinary athletes. Congrats to the Utah team that won this honor to represent the USA," Romney tweeted.
Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance, called the benefits of hosting another Olympics "immeasurable" and said the business community is ready to help
"It's undeniable that Utah is once again ready to host the world, and the Salt Lake Chamber and Utah’s business community is fully engaged in presenting the best case for why Salt Lake City is still the right place," Miller said.