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Winter Olympics 2022: Denver committee recommends bid, dismisses 1976 rejection

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Should Denver make a bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics? Yesterday, a panel of local experts and planners tasked with exploring the possibility yesterday gave state and city officials an overwhelming "yes" recommendation. And fortunately, a majority of folks across the state don't know about 1976. Do you?

If not, let's review Denver's strange and complex history with the Olympics -- dating back to the '70s.

Denver successfully made a bid to host the 1976 Olympics, after which voters decided they did not want it.

That's right, Denver is the only city that ever earned the prestigious honor to host the Olympics and then rejected the offer. It's been called the "most insulting snub in Olympic history."

In 1972, a range of concerns around costs, environmental impacts, over-development and other anxieties led voters to reject the public funding needed to host the Olympics -- more than two years after the International Olympic Committee had awarded the 1976 Winter Games to Denver (at the cost of $5 million).

This history logically came up when the Denver Olympic Exploratory Committee, featuring 22 local leaders and experts, officially voted to recommend to the mayor of Denver and the governor of Colorado that they pursue a bid for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. When reporters asked Anne Warhover, co-chair of the committee, about this, she said the group's research had found that a majority of residents across the state aren't aware of Denver's strange history with the Olympics.

"Here's something really interesting...less than half, or 44 percent of voters, had ever heard about [1976] in the first place," said Warhover, who's also the CEO of the Colorado Health Foundation.

She was speaking about a poll of 600 registered voters across the state, representing a wide range of demographics

"So if you think about 1976...if you were zero in 1976, you know, you'd have to be in your mid-thirties. You wouldn't remember. So a lot of time has passed," she said. "It's not an issue. It's so old and so much in the past."

In addition, the poll found that 74 percent of respondents supported a Denver Olympic bid.

"Try polling on any issue in the state right now and see if you can get close to that number," she said.

Chimed in Sue Baldwin, interim president of Metro Denver Sports Commission, "Right now, there's only one IOC [International Olympic Committee] member who was an IOC member when they voted on it in 1972 [for the 1976 game]. So not only is the state's generation beyond it, but the IOC is sort of beyond it as well."

Page down to read more about the exploratory committee's findings and comments from Mayor Michael Hancock about a potential bid. The officials from the exploratory committee did not spend most of their time talking about 1976 at yesterday's event. Rather, they explained why they recommended that Denver pursue a bid.

The official recommendation is simply advisory. Next, Mayor Michael Hancock and Governor John Hickenlooper have to jointly decide if they are interested. At the same time, the United States Olympic Committee also must decide whether it wants an American city to compete. And there's still a lot of time -- cities don't have to officially express an intent to bid until September of 2013. A decision for 2022 would be made in 2015.

"We've all watched Olympic bids," Warhover said. But in her view, such an effort would put "Denver on the map internationally.... All of the sudden, there's reports and news media about our great environment and ski industry."

The committee reported that the bid could be made entirely with private money, through sponsorships. "Companies want to sponsor a bid for the Olympics. It's a good way of getting a return on their brand, and we're confident we could easily raise the private money...the range of $27 to 45 million for a bid," Warhover said.

She also noted that the last games hosted in North America broke even on investments or made profits.

"The bid has to serve a purpose even if we don't win," Warhover added. "We want the bid to be a valuable effort that leaves a legacy for the people of Colorado."

Earlier in the day, Hancock expressed some interest in the Olympics, raising the question to members of the city council when he stopped by for an all-day retreat (where the mayor and the Council discussed bike safety and gang violence, among a wide range of issues).

"I would love to hear your thoughts on the city bidding for their Olympics," Hancock said, prompting one councilwoman to shout "woo!" -- and several gave thumbs up signs.

"I do believe that the pledge of no public resources being used on the Olympics can be done and will be done. That's extremely important. I will say...the Olympics are very expensive," he said, noting that he would want all the money for the bid to be raised privately.

Council members seemed interested, with several noting that they just want to be sure there is thorough research into the benefits Denver would receive.

Hancock and Hickenlooper sent out an official joint statement late yesterday saying the committee's unanimous support is "great news:"

We want to thank the Denver Olympic Exploratory Committee for their thorough, objective work to evaluate a potential Olympic bid. It is great news to learn about the Committee's unanimous support of a bid and we deeply appreciate the research and expertise offered in the report. We will take due consideration of the report, which will inform our decisions on next steps.

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Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin.

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