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David Ramsey: Could Olympics land in Colorado, a state that once rejected the Games?

October 19, 2017 Updated: October 20, 2017 at 10:11 pm
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Silver medalist Lea Ann Parsley, left and gold medalist Tristan Gale, both of the United States, congratulate each other following skeleton competition at Utah Olympic Park Wednesday, February 20, 2002. Mark Reis photo

The International Olympic Committee might forgive Colorado.

But is Colorado interested in this massively expensive forgiveness?

First, a history lesson, or reminder: In 1970, the IOC awarded the 1976 Winter Games to a vastly different Colorado. At first, there was mass celebration in a state with a population of 2.2 million. We finally hit the big time.

It only took a year for the Olympic party to end. On Nov. 7, 1971, state voters, by a 3-to-2 margin, rejected a $5 million bond issue required to fund the Games. Colorado remains the only destination to ever hand back an Olympic bid to the IOC.

Now, there are rumblings that Colorado might host the 2026 or 2030 Games. U.S. Olympic  Committee CEO Scott Blackmun announced Colorado as a possible candidate at a press conference in September.

Really? Is it possible the IOC would overlook Colorado’s rude and emphatic rejection?

Blackmun believes the answer is yes.

“I think the IOC is going to act in the best interests of the Olympic movement and won’t hold any grudges against Colorado or Salt Lake City,” Blackmun says at his office in downtown Colorado Springs.

“Remember, Salt Lake City was where the bid scandal erupted. (Salt Lake boosters bribed IOC officials to land the 2002 Winter Games.) There are reasons the IOC could look at both places and say, ‘Do we really want to go there?’

“I don’t think they will. I think they will act in the best interests of the Olympic movement and won’t look at past events in a way that will hurt any American bid.”

In so many ways, the Colorado of today is vastly different than the Colorado of 1971.

Back then, proclaiming yourself a Colorado native was no big deal. Of course you were born in Colorado. Back then, Colorado Springs was a sleepy city of 135,000.

If a Colorado Olympic bid moves forward, we might see how much has not changed. In 1971, voters considered thrift and protecting the environment more important than showcasing the state to the world. Voters didn’t want to pay the big price tag to host the Olympics, and they didn’t want to alter their mountains, either.

Those Colorado voters were pioneers in a movement that has shaken the Olympics. The Games are, no doubt, a glorious, overwhelming event. For a few weeks, the world gathers to play games and emphasize all we share while forgetting all that separates us. It’s a precious statement.

It’s also an enormously expensive statement.

In 1971, it was radical to flee from paying to host an Olympics. In 2017, this fleeing is not revolutionary.

Boston and New England were the early favorites to host the 2024 or 2028 Summer  Games. Then, a contrary movement started. The No Boston Olympics seemed a mere nuisance at first, but the campaign gained strength and in 2015 voters in Greater Boston rejected pursuing a bid.

The rejection was almost purely financial. Boston voters remembered the 2004 Athens Games pushed Greece toward insolvency. They remembered the 2008 Beijing Games cost $44 billion and the 2014 Sochi Games cost $51 billion. (They forgot the frugal 2012 London Games turned a tiny profit while generating $9.9 billion in tourist spending.)  

“The Olympics have become the province of autocratic societies,” a Boston Globe writer declared after the rejection. “That is not us. We are a free people.”

In 1971, Colorado voters started a trend by renouncing their chance to host the world’s biggest and best – and most expensive – sports extravaganza.

A few months after the IOC awarded the Games to Colorado, defiant state Rep. Bob Jackson pushed a bold idea.

“The decision time is now,” Jackson said in 1971. “We ought to say to the nation and the world, ‘We’re sorry, we are concerned about the environment. We made a mistake. Take the Games elsewhere.’”

The Games went elsewhere. A stunned IOC handed the 1976 Winter Games to Innsbruck.

Colorado has enjoyed and endured vast change since Jackson’s radical proclamation. Our population has grown by 3.3 million. A state once filled with natives is now jammed with newcomers.

But I’m not so sure about one change:

Have we repented of our rebellious Olympic ways?

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