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Dick Lamm Says Olympic Games May Have a Duty to Die

Any chance of the Mile High City landing the 2030 Winter Olympics melted like snow under the bright Colorado sun on December 14, when the U.S. Olympic Committee announced that it was choosing Salt Lake City over Reno and Denver as this country's contender for the Games that year.

Residents of Utah's capital city had been loud in their support of the bid, while in this town...not so much. After all, Coloradans had voted in 1972 not to spend public money on the Winter Games, which had already been awarded to Denver for 1976. And that was the end of that.

Except that periodically, Denver boosters float the idea of bringing the Olympics here, and last year, Mayor Michael Hancock created an exploratory committee to look into a potential Denver bid for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

"Some things never stay dead," says Richard Lamm, who was a 34-year-old state representative when he led the fight to put the Olympics to a vote, and was elected governor of Colorado two years later. "Historian Arnold Toynbee used this really wonderful phrase, 'an autopsy of history will reveal that all great nations commit suicide.'

"The Olympics, I think they are dying, and the autopsy is suicide."

Since Denver gave up the Games 46 years ago, other cities have decided against bids. Calgary withdrew itself from consideration for the 2026 Winter Olympics last month; Oslo pulled out of the race for the 2022 Winter Olympics back in 2014.

What many would-be hosts discover, Lamm explains, is that the International Olympic Committee is "a generally aristocratic committee, and they make certain demands," such as requiring five-star hotels and special receptions. "This kind of arrogance typifies the arrogance of people who run the Olympics, and has for years."

And then there's the challenge of building the infrastructure to hold the Olympic events; the cost of that, and the reliance on taxpayer funding, ultimately doomed Denver's original bid prepared by the state's then-movers and shakers.

"I was deeply involved," Lamm recalls. "I debated those people. They really were reflecting the international committee, an arrogant bunch of people who felt god was on their side."

This round, the Denver organizing committee was very different, Lamm acknowledges, and looked for partnerships that would prevent the public from picking up the tab. It was headed by Rob Cohen, "really a civic leader, and others in that group have done some really good things for Denver," he says. "I think they truly thought they were doing things the community would benefit from. I want to give them a shout-out, I want to make it clear that they were in it for civic purposes."

Cohen even tried to get Lamm to join the committee, "something that never happened in 1970," Lamm notes.

Dick Lamm wasn't included on the 1970 Olympics exploratory committee.
Dick Lamm wasn't included on the 1970 Olympics exploratory committee.
Denver Public Library

As a poor law student at Berkeley in 1960, Lamm scrounged his way to the Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, and appreciated what he saw. "There is something about the international brotherhood that is worth saving," he says. "But I think they're going to have a hell of a hard time keeping the institution going. I take no joy in that."

And Lamm is working with a group that will add another hurdle: Even though there's no possibility of the Olympics coming to Denver in 2030, a group that had already taken out a petition to make sure any future Olympic bids go to a vote of the people is still collecting signatures, with a goal of getting it on Denver's May 2019 ballot. (Find out more on letdenvervote.org.)

The "selection of Salt Lake City gives Denver taxpayers at least a temporary reprieve from the expenditure and financial risk associated with bidding for the Olympic Games,” says Brad Evans, treasurer of Let Denver Vote. “But this has been an important lesson and what we’ve learned is that tax dollars can be diverted from what’s important to Denver voters — simply to explore an Olympic bid. With the risks of an Olympic bid to Denver taxpayers being so high, Denver needs to codify a provision requiring a say for voters before ever beginning that process in the future.”

While Lamm's leaving the signature-collecting to others, he's continuing to monitor not just this movement, but other projects. "The inability of our modern society to bring things in on time and on budget is deeply disturbing," he says.

Denver and Colorado have plenty of big projects in the works, including a Colorado Convention Center expansion currently embroiled in controversy, and the massive National Western Complex project. "It's a very exciting time," Lamm concludes. "Now we can concentrate on fixing the right things."  

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