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U.S. Cities Win Gold for Olympic Venue Use: Part III

Thursday, August 11, 2016

This is the third in a three-part blog series looking back at the venues of three past U.S. Olympic cities: Los Angeles, Atlanta and Salt Lake City. 

Salt Lake City, Utah – The XIX Olympic Winter Games

Salt Lake City Salt Lake City started prepping for the games 13 years before the event and six years before they were named by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as the host city. Utah voters passed the Olympic Referendum in November of 1989, which, by using public funds that would be paid back by profits from the games, allowed construction to begin on some Olympic venues. The intention was to get the bid for the 1998 Winter Olympics, which eventually went to Nagano, Japan. With several newly-completed venues to impress the IOC, Salt Lake City successfully won the bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The referendum formed the Utah Sports Authority to build and operate the facilities. According to the Deseret News, the commission “built the venues using one-eighth of one percent sales tax collected by the state since 1990.” The agreement between the authority and the State of Utah meant that the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee would purchase and take over the venues from the authority in 1999 for $99 million, $59 million of which was paid back to the State of Utah as reimbursement of the sales tax diversion, according to the book Olympic Dreams: The Impact of Mega-events on Local Politics.

In preparation for what would happen to the venues following the Games, the State of Utah created the Utah Sports Commission in 2000 and appointed businessman and former pro tennis player Jeff Robbins to its helm. Working under the branding tagline “Utah: the State of Sport,” the commission worked to assure the legacy of the Games by partnering with the venues and numerous other Utah organizations to attract Olympic-related and other major sporting events.

Fourteen venues were created for the games with several existing facilities renovated across a wide area of Utah with Salt Lake City in the center. According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, “every venue used during the last Olympics in the United States remains fully functional, open to everyone from world-class athletes to locals who can barely stand on a pair of skates.”

Part of the Salt Lake City venues unprecedented continuation to thrive is due to the United State Olympic Committee (USOC) and the IOC using profits from the games to establish an $85 million endowment managed by the newly-formed Utah Athletic Foundation, now operating as the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation. The endowment and foundation ensure the venues will have the financial resources needed to support the Utah Sports Commission mission to attract events. Because of these efforts, according to the Utah Sports Commission, Utah has hosted more than 45 World Cups or championships since 2002 and continues to be a draw for tourists and athletes alike.

The foundation is responsible for the management of three of the venues: Utah Olympic Park, Utah Olympic Oval and Soldier Hollow. The 389-acre Utah Olympic Downhill Skier Park is east of Salt Lake City near Park City on the Wasatch Mountains. The venue hosted bobsleigh, skeleton, luge, Nordic ski jumping and combined events during the games. Today, it is an official U.S. Olympic training site and contains six Nordic Ski Jumps, 1,335-meter sliding track with five start areas, freestyle aerials winter training and competition hill, and 750,000-gallon training pool. Additionally, the park offers activities, including zip lines, climbs, slides and hikes in the warmer months and the Joe Quinney Winter Sports Center is on site with a museum dedicated to the winter games, the Alf Engen Ski Museum and George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles 2002 Olympic Winter Games Museum. The Utah Olympic Oval is known as the “Fastest Ice on Earth” since it’s home to more than 100 world records in speed skating. It hosted the speed skating event, and, today, continues to host world-class speed skating races and is used as a teaching facility for figure skaters, speed skaters, hockey players and more. Roughly the size of four football fields, the Utah Olympic Oval consists of a 400-meter speed skating oval; two international size ice sheets; a four-lane, 442-meter, state-of-the-art running track; eight 110-meter spring lanes; weight room; locker room and meeting space. Soldier Hollow hosted the biathlon, cross-country skiing and cross-country portions of the Nordic combined events. Currently, the Utah Olympic Oval hosts events year round, including cross-country skiing, showshoeing, biking, hiking and equestrian use. The facility has hosted a number of well-known events, including the U.S. Cross Country Skiing Championships and the annual Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championships.

Several other ice sheet facilities were constructed. Provo is home to the Peaks Ice Arena, which has two ice sheets and was constructed to be a secondary ice hockey venue. Completed in 1999, the event held both men and women’s hockey events and, today, is open to the public. In Ogden, The Ice Sheet at Ogden hosted curling events and is located on Webster State University's campus. The facility now operates as Weber County Ice Sheet and, in addition to its work as a hockey venue for university students and Ogden community members, it hosts dozens of competitions throughout the year. The E Center, known today as the Maverik Center, in West Valley City was constructed in Salt Lake City west of downtown and used for the gold medal games. Today, it is home to the Utah Grizzlies ECHL team and owned by West Valley City.

The committee partnered with the University of Utah in Salt Lake City for two venues, the Olympic Village, built to house the athletes, and Rice Stadium (now called Rice-Eccles Stadium), where opening and closing ceremonies were held. The Olympic Village was constructed on land the University of Utah had acquired when Fort Douglas Army base was closed in the early nineties. The old base housing, some of which was converted and some of which was developed, is now used for student housing. The existing stadium was mostly torn down following the 1997 football season and rebuilt to expand seating capacity and modernize it in time for the fall 1998 season.

What is now Vivint Smart Home Arena and the home of the Utah Jazz NBA team was used for the figure skating and short track speed skating events under the temporary name Salt Lake Ice Center. Located across the street from the Olympic Medals Plaza, a temporary venue erected to host the medal ceremonies and music performances during the games, the arena was privately financed by Utah businessman Larry Miller and completed in 1991. Due to basketball season, which was ongoing at the time of the 2002 games, the organizers had less than a week to transform the basketball facility into an ice arena. Deer Valley and Park City Mountain Resorts in Park City were used for the slalom, freestyle aerials, moguls, alpine giant slalom and snowboarding competitions with temporary stadiums erected for spectators.





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