Fraser Bullock

USOC's Probst: "We do want to bid ..."

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The glow from the London Games still fresh in the minds of everyone in the audience, the chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee's board got right to the question on everyone's minds right away. "Make no mistake," Larry Probst told the USOC's annual assembly here at the Antlers Hilton Hotel, "we do want to bid, and we do want to win.

"But we will only bid if the business logic is as compelling as the sport logic."

Probst's comments highlighted the remarks at a markedly low-key assembly in the wake of the high-octane American performance in London -- the 46 gold medals and 104 overall, both best in the world.

All along, Probst -- and USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun -- had been quietly confident that American athletes would perform well at the 2012 Olympic Games. Probst said Friday that "despite the naysayers and predictions of the end of Team USA's preeminence, our athletes rose to the challenge and demonstrated, once again, just how deeply the pursuit of excellence is ingrained in our character."

He said that one of his favorite in-person London moments was getting to watch Serena Williams defeat Russia's Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon for the women's singles gold medal, and said that Williams represents the "heart and soul" of the USOC's mission, to "produce sustained competitive excellence over time."

The obvious question, Probst said, having seen the excitement that the Games brought to London and Britain, is when the United States will be back in the bid game.

For those unfamiliar with the story, he reminded everyone that when he became board chair four years ago, the USOC was, as he put it, "engulfed in a period of challenge and turmoil."

New York was put forward in 2005 for the 2012 Summer Games. Chicago was the candidate in 2009 for the 2016 Games. Both lost, and lost big, because of the USOC's relationship with the wider Olympic movement.

As Probst put it Friday, the USOC needed a "major course correction."

That course correction came this past May, when the USOC and International Olympic Committee struck a deal that resolved a longstanding dispute over certain broadcasting and marketing revenue shares.

Friction over the current deal played a key role in the wider bad karma that helped sink the New York and Chicago bids.

The new deal runs from 2020 until 2040, and gives the USOC removes "the largest single impediment to building the kind of international partnerships we have always desired with the Olympic movement," Probst said.

The deal was negotiated by Blackmun and Fraser Bullock on the USOC side and by IOC members Gerhard Heiberg and Richard Carrion and IOC director general Christophe de Kepper. Probst said all "approached the final discussions with openness and an honest desire to move beyond the conflict."

A USOC working group on the bid process is due to report back to the full board in December. Up for study is either the 2024 Summer or 2026 Winter Games; the smart money, ultimately, would seem to be on a 2024 Summer bid, with San Francisco and New York atop the list of possible cities and Chicago sure to be mentioned again.

At a news conference later Friday, both Probst and Blackmun cautioned that the working group is not -- repeat, not -- going to come back with specific recommendations, Summer or Winter, this city or that.

Probst said it would focus on "guiding principles around the bid or next steps," with Blackmun emphasizing that budgets, economics and due diligence in a variety of areas are a must.

The IOC demands certain guarantees from a bid city. The nature of American federalism -- with the national government traditionally not involved in the bid business, leaving state and local governments on the hook -- makes those guarantees particularly difficult to satisfy. Both Probst and Blackmun said that issue deserves renewed study.

Both also cautioned repeatedly that a bid simply has to make sense, Blackmun saying at that news conference, "If we don't think we will win, we will not bid."

What they didn't say is what they didn't have to. The resolution of the revenue dispute, as well as the geopolitics of the 2000 (Sydney), 2004 (Athens), 2008 (Beijing), 2012 (London), 2016 (Rio de Janeiro) Games and the 2020 campaign (Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul) mitigate strongly in favor of a first-rate bid from the United States for 2024.

"We want the Games back in the United States, and we have a number of friends in the international community who want us to host the Games as well," Probst told the assembly, adding, "That's perhaps the best news I could possibly give you today."

Salt Lake 2022: not a chance

As Salt Lake City celebrates the tenth anniversary of the 2002 Winter Olympics, local authorities have announced they intend to explore the idea of bidding again for the 2022 or 2026 Winter Games. Addressing supporters at the Olympic cauldron at Rice-Eccles Stadium was re-lit last week for a few minutes, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said, according to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune, "We need to pursue this [exploration] to see if there is real opportunity there."

I can help, Mr. Governor.

There is no chance Salt Lake City can win. Zero. Zip. Nada. You can stop right now.

Save everyone the money, the time and the worry.

This is not -- repeat, not -- a slam on Salt Lake, or Utah. Salt Lake is cool. Park City and Deer Valley are beautiful. So is Soldier Hollow.

This is, instead, a blunt assessment of the reality of the International Olympic Committee bid game. I have covered every IOC bid contest since 1999. I spent a great deal of 2011 reporting on the 2018 Winter Games contest, won by Pyeongchang, South Korea, going to each of the three stops on the Evaluation Commission tour and then the vote itself last July in Durban, South Africa.

Mr. Governor, not once since the 2002 Games closed has even one IOC member said to me -- you know what, I really want to go back to Salt Lake City.

That is why you have no chance.

Do you know where the members of the IOC consistently say they would want to go?

San Francisco. And Los Angeles. For the Summer Games.

In polling done for the 2012 New York and 2016 Chicago bids, IOC members consistently told their American friends that where they really wanted to go was California. The IOC is Eurocentric; San Francisco is a magic name in Europe and yet it has never staged the Games. LA has played host twice, in 1932 and 1984, but Southern California, with Hollywood, Disneyland and the surf and volleyball culture of the beach, nonetheless remains a potent draw.

Mr. Governor, another point to consider:

Salt Lake was an Olympic city in 2002 but since then, what? The IOC is back in the United States this week for a conference it stages every four years called "Women and Sport." President Jacques Rogge is in attendance. Some 800 people are with him. Where's this conference? Los Angeles.

Is anyone from Utah in attendance here in Los Angeles? Um, still looking.

Three years ago, an Olympic-related conference, SportAccord, was held amid the IOC's policy-making executive board meeting. Where? Denver.

What has Salt Lake done for the IOC since 2002?

This, again, Mr. Governor, is why Salt Lake has no chance.

Though you undoubtedly have been briefed, Mr. Governor, that Denver and Reno-Tahoe are your domestic competitors for 2022, and that Bozeman, Mont., may be interested as well, the real play for the United States may well be California in 2024.

Obviously, a 2024 candidacy would likely take 2026 out of the mix.

If, that is, there's any bid in play at all in the next few years.

There's just no urgency to bid, and here's hoping someone on your exploratory committee by now has told you this.

For starters, it's not at all critical for the Games to be back in the United States. Sure, it would be nice if the Games were back. But it's not an imperative -- not politically, economically or culturally. NBC just agreed to pay $4.38 billion for the rights to televise the Games through 2020; none of those Games is in the United States yet the sales price was hardly depressed.

Moreover, the U.S. Olympic Committee and IOC are locked in a long-running dispute over the 12.75 percent share of television rights and 20 percent cut of marketing rights the USOC gets from the IOC. The two sides are talking but progress has been halting.

There's no bid until there's a new deal, and it's not clear a deal will get done while Rogge is in office. He's president until September, 2013. That doesn't leave a lot of time to get a bid together in time for a 2015 vote for 2022; a bid these days typically runs north of $50 million.

As for Denver: they have to contend in Colorado with the 1970s Olympic give-back (still); the haul up to the mountains from Denver proper; and the environmental and financial issues inherent in building a bobsled track. Like, do we need another one in the American West when there's one next door in Utah?

Reno increasingly seems to be trying to package itself with California -- the Nevada-California border is right there -- and with San Francisco, four hours away.

Which only begs the question, right? Why go to Reno when you're inevitably drawn to San Francisco? That's one of the challenges the Reno bid is going to have to answer. Even in 1960, when the Winter Games were held in Squaw Valley, in the Sierras by the California-Nevada line, building on the same idea the Reno team is floating for 2022, the IOC held its session down in San Francisco.

It is true that the United States has become a Winter Games power and the finances of the movement have made staging the Winter Olympics a much more attractive option than ever before. But the primary play is, and always will be, the Summer Games.

There are lots of reasons San Francisco has never staged the Games. The politics are complicated; same for the traffic. But perhaps the main issue has always been, what about a stadium?

Earlier this month, the NFL announced it would give the 49ers $200 million toward a $1 billion, 68,500-seat stadium in suburban Santa Clara. Site work began in January. The stadium could open as soon as the 2014 season, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Unclear is whether the stadium could be configured for track and field or whether it's football-only.

Let's get back to Salt Lake. All the it-can't-happen evidence in this column -- people in Utah surely stand ready to dismiss it, eager to point to "sustainability" and to Mitt.

It is indisputably true that the facilities that helped Salt Lake stage the 2002 Games are still there. The airport; the venues; the mass-transit system; Interstate 80; all of that.

Doesn't matter.

For one, come 2022, that bobsled track -- just to pick one venue - is going to be 20 years old. It's not going to take some upgrading? That's not going to cost some money?

Beyond which -- those kinds of venues, facilities and things on the ground are what the IOC calls the "technical" stuff.

The technical stuff doesn't win votes. New York had a great technical bid and got 19 votes, eliminated in the second round. Chicago had a great technical bid and got bounced in the first round, with 18 votes.

The IOC likes to talk about "sustainable" Olympics. Then it goes and awards Games to London (2012 - huge construction project), Sochi, Russia (2014 - huge construction project), Rio (2016 - huge construction project) and Pyeongchang (2018 - huge construction project).

Someday, perhaps, that string will be snapped. But why would it be Salt Lake?

Olympic bids are won on emotion, on story-telling, on connection.

The memories that we Americans have of those Games as a patriotic expression of can-do just five months after 9/11?

Within the IOC, "Salt Lake" is still remembered for the bid scandal, for the sense of having to move within a post-9/11 armed camp, even for President Bush's addition to the opening-the-Games formula. He added, "On behalf of a proud, determined and grateful nation" to the traditional formula, "I declare open the Games of Salt Lake City," and within the protocol-sensitive IOC you bet they still remember.

If the bet within Salt Lake City is that Mitt Romney, now running for the Republican nomination for U.S. president, would once again be cast as savior -- the position here is clear.

Romney, along with Fraser Bullock and the rest of the SLOC team, and the volunteers, deserve enormous credit for turning around the 2002 Olympics. The situation when he was brought in was, if not grim, pretty close to it. He and his team -- and everyone in Utah who contributed -- deserve full recognition for the success of the 2002 Olympics, and the $100 million surplus.

"I'm delighted that Utah is thinking about bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics," Romney said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. "Our great nation is wonderfully suited to host the world's greatest sporting competition."

It's quite a proposition, though, that Romney as president would sway the IOC. First, he would have to get the Republican nomination; then be elected president of the United States; then convince the IOC. That's a lot of dominoes.

Remember that President Obama went to Copenhagen in 2009 to lobby the IOC on behalf of Chicago, his hometown, and to little effect.

Presumably, Romney would be greeted by the IOC as an Olympic insider. Then again, it's the IOC. One never assumes.