Bringing the 2022 Winter Olympics to Denver has the potential to bring people together in a way that nothing else can, Governor John Hickenlooper said today, expressing serious interest in a possible bid.
The governor chatted with Westword this morning about what the Olympics could mean for Colorado after he made a speech on education at the Hyatt in Denver.
"The Olympics has the potential to be a catalyst to create civic muscle in a way that almost nothing else can," he said.
Last week, we reported on the latest exploration for a possible 2022 bid for the Winter Olympics, with a committee of local leaders officially recommending that Hickenlooper and Mayor Michael Hancock pursue it. There's no clear timeline on when these two officials will decide whether they are going to push forward, but both have expressed serious interest. At a Denver City Council event last week, Hancock said he was intrigued by the idea as long as the money for the bid could be raised privately.
In terms of timing, the mayor and the governor will have to jointly decide whether they are interested. But at the same time, the United States Olympic Committee also must determine if it wants an American city to compete, and cities don't officially have to declare an intent to bid until September of 2013.
"Part of what we see with wildfires or what we see with any of the challenges about early literacy is the solutions revolve around our ability as a community to work together, to come together, and say, 'All right, here are the different possible solutions. We're all gonna unite. We're gonna do this one,'" Hickenlooper told us. "Well, the Olympics, the key there if we're going to pursue the Olympics -- and Mayor Hancock has talked about this very eloquently -- is that we need to tie it to a bigger vision. How do we become the healthiest city, the healthiest state in America?"
Overshadowing all of this, of course, is Denver's strange history with the Olympics. Back in 1972, voters concerned with over-development and environmental impact rejected the 1976 Winter Games after the city was officially awarded them, making Denver the first to flat-out reject an offer -- an action that was widely seen as an Olympics snub.
Polls from this year's exploratory committee showed that a majority of residents across the state aren't even aware of this background, and the leaders of the research committee don't see it as a concern.
Hickenlooper doesn't feel the previous rejection would be a major obstacle.
"I think there are concerns, but...if the community puts its shoulder to the wheel and decides this is what we want to do...."
Likewise, he expects that the International Olympic Committee's members would be open-minded. "I'm sure there are some people that want to look at it closely and make sure it didn't repeat itself," he conceded, "but I don't think it would be a disqualifying factor."
On an unrelated note, we asked Hickenlooper about his visit last week with President Barack Obama, who visited Colorado Springs to see the impact of the Waldo Canyon fire.
Wildfires came up during Hickenlooper's speech about education and early literacy. According to him, "The fires have been challenging for everyone in the state. You take it as a community burden. It was very powerful for me that President Obama came. I drove around El Paso County and Colorado Springs for three hours with him last week, and to watch his ability to lift up, inspire firefighters and first responders.
"He said, 'We can supply you with resources. We can give you the training. But we can't teach you courage,' and...you could just see everyone, they all just rose up off their feet."
Asked to elaborate earlier today, Hickenlooper said, "[Obama] is just such an impressive person. He's so grounded. He's just so real. We spent three hours riding back and forth. We were talking about basketball, about firefighters and their courage."
Asked about how the fires have impacted him personally, Hickenlooper replied, "To see so many people who can lose so much so rapidly, to have their whole lives turned upside down, it takes emotionally a lot out of you every day. At the same time, to see the true heroism.... While their own home is burning, you see them fighting for the community."
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He added, "Like any natural disaster, it is difficult sometimes to deal with all the loss. But at the same time, often it's inspiring what people do."
More from our Politics archive: "Photos: Eva Longoria, Valerie Jarrett come to Colorado to promote Obama 2012"