A model of a proposed speed-skating arena that was to be built near South High School for the 1976 Winter Olympics Games in Denver — the ones that didn't happen.
A model of a proposed speed-skating arena that was to be built near South High School for the 1976 Winter Olympics Games in Denver — the ones that didn't happen.
Denver Public Library

Denver Exploring Bid for Winter Olympics, Paralympic Winter Games

Mayor Michael Hancock, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and other officials and business leaders in Denver have formed a committee to explore the possibility of bidding to host a future Winter Olympics or Paralympic Winter Games in the city that famously rejected the 1976 Winter Olympics as part of a citizens' revolt detailed in a recent Westword feature article.

A release about the development is shared below in its entirety — and while it doesn't explicitly advocate for a Winter Olympics or Paralympic Winter Games campaign, a statement attributed to Hancock certainly suggests that he's plenty intrigued by the possibility.

"The Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games present the opportunity for our community to evaluate the economic and social costs and benefits of bringing world-class athletes from around the world to our city, region and state in the spirit of competition, friendship and fair play," Hancock is quoted as saying. "Colorado is already a world-class destination for winter sports. This exploratory committee will determine if it is in Denver’s and the state’s best interests to pursue a bid, and whether there is strong community-based support for the effort."

In "How a Citizen Revolt Snuffed the 1976 Denver Winter Olympics," published in June 2016, writer Alan Prendergast outlines how a similar effort won over the International Olympics Committee but failed to please a group of activists that included a man who would become Colorado's governor a few years later. Here's an excerpt:

On May 14, 1970, an exultant delegation of civic-minded business leaders and politicians returned to Denver from an IOC meeting in Amsterdam with the bid for the ’76 games firmly in hand. “This is the icing on the cake of our Colorado centennial celebration,” declared Mayor Bill McNichols.

And then, over the course of two tumultuous years, the dream unraveled. Much to the delegation’s bewilderment, many people in Colorado believed that hosting the Olympics would indeed bring the state to the brink — not of greatness, but of disaster. They complained about environmental impacts and the threat of runaway growth, a price tag that seemed to double every few months and a lack of community input in the entire process. It didn’t help that many of the claims made by the Denver Olympic Committee in order to secure the games — assertions about facilities and housing already in place, ideal alpine and Nordic sites within an easy drive of Denver, ample snow and the like — turned out to be a mix of wishful thinking, artful fudging, reckless exaggeration and pure fantasy.

Led by an obscure 34-year-old state representative named Richard Douglas Lamm, a core of young but politically savvy opponents launched a campaign to stop the project in its tracks. Dismissed as interlopers and “street people,” they managed to put the question of whether to spend public money on the Winter Games on a statewide ballot, as well as a separate initiative in Denver itself. In 1972, Denver became the only city in history to be awarded the Olympics and then spurn them. The turnabout signaled a profound upheaval in Colorado’s power structure, one that would propel Dick Lamm into the Governor’s Mansion for three terms and forever alter the state’s political chemistry.

Since then, various groups have flirted with the idea of romancing the Olympics again. In 2012, for instance, what was dubbed the Denver Olympic Exploratory Committee released a report in which members "unanimously recommended that Governor John Hickenlooper and Mayor Michael Hancock pursue getting the 2022 Games," reporter Sam Levin wrote at the time.

This plan came to naught shortly thereafter, when the United States Olympics Committee decided not to pursue the games in 2022. But six years later, Hancock and company are clearly doing more than simply flirting with the idea, as the booster-like tone of the aforementioned release makes clear. Read it below.

Business and political leaders, including Colorado Lieutenant Governor John Vanderhoof (third from left), Governor John Love (second from right) and Denver Mayor Tom Currigan (far right) worked for years on a successful bid to host the ’76 Winter Olympics.
Business and political leaders, including Colorado Lieutenant Governor John Vanderhoof (third from left), Governor John Love (second from right) and Denver Mayor Tom Currigan (far right) worked for years on a successful bid to host the ’76 Winter Olympics.
Denver Public Library

Civic and Community Leaders to Determine Feasibility of an Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Bid for Denver

Private financing, fiscal stewardship and environmental sustainability will be key to the recommendations

DENVER (Dec. 15, 2017) — Mayor Michael Hancock, with the support of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, has assembled a group of civic and community leaders from around the State of Colorado to determine whether Denver should submit a bid for a future Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games when the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) issues a call for U.S. candidates.

Denver’s exploratory committee will, first and foremost, determine if hosting a future Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games would be good for Denver and Colorado. That includes identifying ways for the Games to be financed privately, while still meeting all of the requirements of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The exploratory committee will also determine what legacy an Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games would leave for Denver and Colorado, as well as establish the appropriate forums for community input.

"The Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games present the opportunity for our community to evaluate the economic and social costs and benefits of bringing world-class athletes from around the world to our city, region and state in the spirit of competition, friendship and fair play," said Hancock. "Colorado is already a world-class destination for winter sports. This exploratory committee will determine if it is in Denver’s and the state’s best interests to pursue a bid, and whether there is strong community-based support for the effort."

The committee has been charged with identifying the opportunities and challenges related to a potential bid. They will examine a number of aspects related to hosting an Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, including private financing, environmental impact, community support, venue requirements, protocol, process and timing.

The exploratory committee is chaired by Rob Cohen, chairman & CEO of The IMA Financial Group. The committee’s findings will be presented to Mayor Hancock and Gov. Hickenlooper. Any decision to submit a bid for a future Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games will be based on the assessment completed by the exploratory committee, as well as any outcomes related to the IOC and USOC decision-making processes. The USOC is the sole entity that will determine whether to submit a bid for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, and they can only submit one U.S. bid city to the IOC.

"The exploratory committee takes this charge very seriously, and we will conduct our due diligence in order to provide a comprehensive report to Mayor Hancock and Governor Hickenlooper," commented Cohen. "I’m enthused to have the opportunity to showcase all that Denver and this region have to offer as a potential host to an Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Billions of dollars in infrastructure have already been invested in our community — from our airport to our public transportation system to venues ranging from arenas to ski areas — and it will be interesting to determine if they can be adapted to hosting the Games."

Hosting an Olympic Winter Games would also come with the honor of hosting the Paralympic Winter Games. Colorado has a longstanding commitment to adaptive sports, serving as home to the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, the Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte and the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park and Denver, among many others.

"Colorado is a true leader in the outdoor recreation industry. Our state would be an ideal location for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, and I look forward to hearing more about that possibility from the exploratory committee," said Hickenlooper. "An event of this magnitude requires that communities come together to collaborate. That’s our sweet spot in the Centennial State. As the home and training ground to some of the world’s top winter Olympians, hosting the games would be a fitting tribute to their dedication."

A core group of exploratory committee members has been assembled and will continue to evolve. Additionally, subcommittees are being formed to explore aspects of a potential bid such as Games Operations & Venues, Finance & Fundraising and Civic & Community Engagement. Additional information about how to get involved will be made available in early 2018.

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