Politics play a big part in Colorado

With China, a perennial gold medal favorite in the arena of human rights violations, hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, America’s shifting political landscape would seem an insignificant factor in the International Olympic Committee awarding future Games to the United States.

But international sports competition experts say the world is watching who wins the White House in November, and, to a much lesser degree, who will call the shots in the individual states, including Colorado, that are vying for future Olympic Games. The Denver Sports Commission has expressed interest in Colorado hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“(International sports organizing bodies) are obviously following the election very closely because whoever’s elected president, conventional logic tells you that they’re going to change the relationships with the rest of the world from what they have been, good, bad or indifferent,” said John Dakin of the Vail Valley Foundation, which organizes annual World Cup ski races at Beaver Creek – a likely choice for alpine ski racing if Colorado hosts the 2018 Olympics.

Sestriere, Italy, where the 2006 Torino games alpine ski races were held (Photo/David O. Williams)Dakin and a contingent of Vail-area politicians and business leaders recently returned from Cape Town, South Africa, where the International Ski Federation denied Vail/Beaver Creek the 2013 World Alpine Ski Championships, instead awarding them to Schladming, Austria – the New York Yankees of alpine ski-racing nations. Vail/Beaver Creek, which twice before hosted the championships (1989 and 1999) finished a distant second.

“I did not get any sense that there was any anti-American sentiment involved whatsoever,” Dakin said.

Of course the Olympics are a much bigger target, and Denver has the dubious distinction of being the only city in the modern Olympic era to have been awarded the Games (for 1976) and then rejected them. Denver-area voters in 1972 balked at the $5 million price tag, with then-state legislator Dick Lamm leading the charge against spending public tax money.

“I come down on believing strongly that the voters did the right thing,” Lamm said in a previous e-mail interview. “The history of the Winter Olympics was a history of red ink, and I believe it would have left Colorado with a very large expense and a worse environment.”

But Vail Town Councilman Andy Daly, a former president of Vail Resorts, said the economics of the Winter Olympics have changed dramatically since the 1970s and that Vail hosting some of the events for the 2018 Games might be one way to fast-track mass transit along the I-70 corridor.

“I look at how Salt Lake got their interstate highway system rebuilt in anticipation for the Salt Lake City Olympics, and I think having a new, state-of-the-art, world-class transit system to the mountains would be essential for a really successful bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics,” Daly said, adding it’s important, though, to have all the state and local politicians on the same page if Denver moves forward with a bid.

“We had Gov. Lamm, ‘Duty to Die Dick,’ in the office at that time, and I think we would be well-served to understand the position of our governor before we even finalized an attempt to go forward with the Olympics,” Daly said.

Lamm rode the popularity of his anti-Olympic campaign in the state House into the governor’s office, where he served three terms beginning in 1975. In 1984, Lamm made national headlines with his “duty to die” comments, regarding his support for physician-assisted suicide for the elderly.

Dakin said his sense is 1976 is ancient history in the eyes of the IOC, particularly with the last Winter Olympics (Torino, Italy, in 2006) commanding $600 million in international broadcasting rights, which was up 33 percent from Salt Lake in 2002. But he added it all may be a moot point with Chicago selected last week as one of four finalists for the 2016 Summer Olympics, along with Tokyo, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro.

“What the [United States Olympic Committee] has told Denver and Reno and anybody else is they are not going to submit a 2018 candidate until they have a better idea where Chicago sits in the whole process,” Dakin said. “Their first priority is Chicago and giving Chicago every opportunity to win ’16.” That decision will be made by the IOC in October 2009.

At least one Vail athlete would love to see the Games come back to Colorado, where Beaver Creek was conceived as a purpose-built Olympic venue for the 1976 Games until Denver voters turned them down.

Overall women’s World Cup ski-racing champion Lindsey Vonn said she was extremely disappointed her hometown lost out on hosting the 2013 World Championships. Vonn, who was 17 when she turned in the best ski-racing result (sixth in combined) for a U.S. woman at Salt Lake in 2002, plans to keep racing through the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but said she might hang on another four years if her home state gets the Games.

“That would definitely be very interesting,” Vonn said. “It’s possible if I’m still skiing well then, that I would be able to race there. I’m pretty much at the point that as long as I’m still having fun and my body is still healthy and I’m still skiing well, then I’m going to keep going.”

Vonn, 23 now, would be 33 at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

is an award-winning reporter who has covered energy, environmental and political issues for years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post. He's founder of Real Vail and Real Aspen.

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