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No Olympics 2022 for Denver (or any American city), but still hope for 2026

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There's always 2026?

In a disappointing development for folks who have been pushing Denver to make a bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics, news broke this week that the United States Olympics Committee is not going to pursue 2022, which means Denver is out of the running for that year.

It was unfortunate timing for local leaders on the Denver Olympic Exploratory Committee, which has spent the last six months researching the benefits of a potential bid, culminating in a report released last week in which members of the committee unanimously recommended that Governor John Hickenlooper and Mayor Michael Hancock pursue getting the 2022 Games.

And when we spoke to Hickenlooper about it Monday, he also seemed pretty enthusiastic about the idea of hosting the Winter Games.

No one supporting a bid appeared too concerned about Denver's strange history with the Olympics -- dating back to the '70s, when the Mile High City was selected to host and then Colorado voters snubbed the International Olympic Committee and rejected its offer. This past history has raised some questions as to whether there might be lingering resentments that would make it difficult for Denver to win a bid.

But as it turns out, Denver won't be getting that far.

Even if Hickenlooper and Hancock were fully on board -- and they both expressed serious interest -- Denver still needed the United States Olympics Committee to officially decide whether it wanted to submit an American city for 2022. The local exploratory committee and elected officials always knew that the USOC would be a deciding factor as well, though it's definitely bad timing that the USOC announced it was nixing 2022 less than a week after the committee's full recommendation was released.

"It's disappointing, but we always knew it was a possibility," says Sue Baldwin, interim president of the Denver Sports Commission, a nonprofit organization which works to draw big sporting events to Denver. This group worked with the exploratory committee on the recommendations for a bid.

The backstory behind this latest twist is that in May, the USOC resolved a longstanding dispute over a revenue-sharing agreement with the IOC; the USOC had said it would not bid again until that was resolved. The timing meant that the committee wouldn't have a lot of time to prepare a 2022 bid, since the proposal would have to be submitted in the fall of 2013. And in its announcement about skipping 2022, the USOC did express interest in potential bids for 2024 or 2026 -- something that gives the Denver group some hope.

"We always knew we might jump up against that," Baldwin says. "But Colorado and Denver felt like we needed to be prepared."

And if the USOC decides it does, in fact, want a winter bid for 2026, "Denver would obviously be interested in that," says Baldwin. "None of the work of the committee was in vain...a lot of really thoughtful, creative work."

Page down to see comments from the Hickenlooper and Hancock, as well as former governor Dick Lamm.

In a joint statement sent out July 3 after the news broke of the USOC's decision, Hickenlooper and Hancock said they were disappointed -- a good sign should Denver have an opportunity to bid for 2026.

The statement said:

We are disappointed the world won't come to Denver for a Winter Games in 2022. But we appreciate the thoughtful approach taken by the U.S. Olympic Committee to bring the games back to America. We respect the USOC's process and will continue to work closely with the Committee on bringing great sporting events to Colorado and furthering our reputation as a healthy and active state. The City of Denver and the State of Colorado stand ready to consider a bid for the Winter Games if the opportunity presents itself again.

But if Denver does get a chance to make a bid in the future, at least one former opponent of the Olympics is confident that the city won't make it very far. Yesterday, we reached former governor Dick Lamm, who in 1972 led the campaign to stop Denver from hosting in 1976. That successful effort was based on a wide range of concerns, including anxieties about over-development, environmental impacts and costs. Voters overwhelmingly turned it down hosting the Olympics. Decades later, it seems he is still not a fan of the idea of the Games in Colorado -- and he's pretty sure that the USOC won't be ,either.

"I would be amazed if the USOC would choose Colorado while voters could again put it on the ballot. Once burned, etc.," Lamm, who is currently on vacation, wrote in an e-mail. "I think the only way they would seriously consider Colorado is after a vote of the people. Why risk the whole thing repeating itself, they must be asking themselves."

As we noted in our first post on the committee's recommendations, a recent poll of residents across the state showed that around 74 percent are supportive of a bid and that a majority of the respondents had never even heard of the aborted 1976 Games.

Still, Lamm is not convinced.

"It's not so much the long memories, it's the current reality," he wrote. "Colorado is a wonderfully free-thinking state with the Initiative and Referendum. Why would they risk this again? Does it make any sense without some concurrence by the voters?"

More from our Sports archive: "John Hickenlooper: Winter Olympics 2022 bid could bring Colorado together"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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