U.S. Olympic Committee visits SLC as potential host site for another Winter Games

SALT LAKE CITY — State and local leaders tried to make a hard sell Wednesday to the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), as to why Salt Lake City should host the Winter Games again.

Salt Lake is in the running alongside Denver for a possible U.S. bid.

The top five USOC members spent the day touring 2002 Olympic venues, including the Kearns Olympic Oval, Park City Olympic Park and Rice-Eccles Stadium.

As the committee walked across the Rice-Eccles field, a video filled with highlights from the 2002 Winter Games played on the jumbotron above. The stadium welcomed athletes for the Opening Ceremony nearly 17 years ago.

The committee ate lunch overlooking the valley from the 4th floor of the stadium, listening to passionate pitches about what sets Salt Lake ahead for a bid.

"Our airport will be completely brand new," Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said, during her speech. She explained that the airport, which will be ready by 2024, will be the only completely brand new international airport in America.

Governor Gary Herbert added that Salt Lake already has the venues in place, and the venues are still in good shape from 2002.

He said that a poll shows 83% of people in Utah are in favor of hosting another Olympics, and that Utah is known for its commitment to volunteer service.

"We have the venues, we have the support of the people," he said. "We have, not only have the know-how, but we have the do-how."

Shannon Bahrke, Olympic Freestyle Skier who lives in Utah, talked about competing in her first Olympics in 2002 where she took home a silver medal.

She said Salt Lake is a community that loves the Olympics, and she has gotten to see how the city has embraced the 'Olympic spirit.'

"We will knock your socks off," she said, and, playing off of Gov. Herbert's 'do-how' comment, added, "We will do-how, know-how, we will get-it-done-how."

Ruth Watkins, University of Utah President, explained that the U of U campus can accommodate the more than 4,000 athletes that participate in the games.

"The University of Utah stands ready to be a partner in this endeavor," she said.

The U backed their statement up with a conveniently timed announcement made two hours prior to the luncheon, that the south end zone of Rice-Eccles will undergo an $80 million rebuild.

The plans include demolishing and rebuilding the south end, closing off the bowl to connect the east and west concourses, new locker rooms and meeting rooms, a kitchen, lounges, patio and more.

Seating will increase by more than 5,000, sending the new capacity over the 50,000 mark to 51,444.

"To have the enclosed stadium and additional seats-- of course, the kind of premium seating we're going to put in-- will be great for our football games," U of U Athletics Director Mark Harlan said. "I'm sure it'll be wonderful for the Olympics."

USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland told the room during the luncheon that this is a community that knows how to host the Olympics and Paralympics.
She said Salt Lake exhibits a strong legacy.

"We're really, really proud of what we've seen today, what we continue to feel from this community," she said.

Hirshland called their trip "an exploration process, a dialogue." It's unclear when the USOC might announce its decision on the bid.