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SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert wasn’t exactly sure what to think about the news Friday that Barcelona, the beachfront city that hosted the 1992 Summer Games, is now competing with Salt Lake City for a future Winter Games along with Sapporo, Japan.
“It’s a Winter Olympics, isn’t it?” the governor said when asked about the International Olympic Committee’s announcement of a Pyrenees-Barcelona bid. “OK, so the beaches probably don’t apply quite as much. But Barcelona, I’m sure, is a wonderful place.”
Herbert touted the strengths of Salt Lake City, host of the 2002 Winter Games, including location.
“We’re so convenient because we’re nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, not by the beaches. We’re actually where the snow’s at and where these events will take place,” the governor said, adding someone could fly into what will be a brand-new Salt Lake City International Airport and be at any competition within an hour.
What Barcelona, a city where February temperatures seldom drop below 45 degrees, wants to do is team up with the Pyrenees mountain region, including the neighboring country of Andorra, for a bid that would include some sliding and ski jumping events held even further away.
The IOC has a new process for selecting Olympic hosts that includes a panel charged with seeking out candidates.
Romanian IOC member Octavian Morariu, who heads that panel, told the Associated Press Friday that contenders have already been in talks about hosting a Winter Games in 2030, 2034 or even in 2038. The IOC’s new process for choosing host cities involves an ongoing dialogue with potential bidders.
That permits a selection to be made years in advance and allows multiple Olympics to be awarded at the same time. When Salt Lake City last competed, the formal bid campaign lasted two years and the pick was made seven years before the Winter Games.
Sapporo, Japan, host of the 1972 Winter Games, has long been mentioned as a competitor to Salt Lake City for a future Olympics. But the Pyrenees-Barcelona bid is only just now become public, although there’s been talk of Barcelona putting together a Winter Games bid since 2010.
The Spanish city is in talks with the IOC despite tensions between the national government and a separatist movement in the Catalonia region centered in Barcelona. Sapporo has stepped in to host marathon and race walk events at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games because of concerns about Tokyo’s hot temperatures.
“Sport is recognized by everyone as a strong reunifying factor,” Morariu told the wire service.
Salt Lake City was selected over Denver in December 2018 by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee as America’s choice to host a future Winter Games, possibly in 2030. For now, though, the USOPC is focused on the upcoming 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles.
Backers of Salt Lake City’s bid for a second Winter Games said they aren’t surprised there’s a new city in the mix.
“It’s always nice to see cities around the world that are enthusiastic about supporting the Olympic movement,” said Fraser Bullock, a leader of the effort to land the USOPC nod. He said Barcelona is “one of my favorite cities in the world. The idea that a beach resort town could host the Winter Games is creative and thrilling and out of the box.”
However, Barcelona’s experience doesn’t give them an edge over Salt Lake City, he said.
“Barcelona did a fabulous job in hosting the Summer Games. Everybody loved their Games. They’ve demonstrated to the world they can host, and host well,” Bullock said. “I don’t think it puts them ahead of Salt Lake, per se, at all. I think we both have unique things to offer.”
For Salt Lake City, Bullock said that means a compact Winter Games that allows for a single athletes village.
“One of the elements of our Games, without comparing us to anybody else, is our unique ability to have a ‘One Games’ experience, in that the athletes can be in one spot and the competitions are close together,” the former chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games said.
Bullock said he didn’t expect more countries to come forward to bid for the 2030 Winter Games, although 2024 and 2038 will likely be a different story.
Utah Sports Commission President and CEO Jeff Robbins said Salt Lake City is still waiting to hear which Winter Games the USOPC wants to pursue. In the meantime, Robbins said, “we’re continuing being disciplined at the things we can control here to stay as ready, willing and able as we can.”
Former Utah State Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, a co-chairman of the state’s Olympic Exploratory Committee, said that’s not a disadvantage for Salt Lake City’s hopes of being chosen again to host a Winter Games by the IOC.
“I would say no. They know what we’re about. They know our venues are going to need very little updating,” Niederhauser said. “I don’t want to be cocky or anything, but that’s the facts. Because we’re compact, because of the infrastructure that’s already here, we can do it as inexpensively as any city in the world.”
He said while the IOC has awarded the Winter Games to multiple locations before, including most recently to Beijing and the neighboring Hebei province in China in 2022, and to Milan-Cortina in Italy in 2026, the smaller size of Salt Lake City’s Winter Games remains a big positive.
Both Sapporo and Barcelona, as former Olympic hosts, “are very viable cities. They’ve proven they can do it,” Niederhauser said. “But I think we still have a very, very strong case to get the Olympics back here in 2030 or 2034.”
New Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall was also upbeat.
“Salt Lake City is ready to welcome the world to the 2030 Olympic Winter Games,” Mendenhall said in a statement. “Our beautiful city has so much to offer our worldwide guests, including the added benefit of our existing Olympic facilities and infrastructure. We feel very strongly about our bid potential.”
The governor said he hopes the IOC can be convinced Salt Lake City is their best choice, especially as other places around the world express interest in hosting a Winter Games.
“It’s a competition. I didn’t ever think we were going to be a lone applicant,” Herbert said. “Worry is not the right term. It’s just, don’t be complacent. Don’t think that we have it in the bag. We have to work and we have to earn it. If we present what Utah has to offer, others will say, ‘You’re right, this is the best place.’”
Contributing: Associated Press