So who’s ready for 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing?
August 1, 2015
Beijing will host the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Beijing won the honor over Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Friday, and the two cities were the only candidates.
This makes perfect sense.
What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here?
These ain't your father's Olympics
Issue No. 1 is that the Winter Games have grown up. With skiing, sledding, speed skating, amateur hockey and figure skating as the main events, the International Olympic Committee could put the quadrennial gathering in a winter resort such as Lake Placid, New York, (1932 and 1980) or Innsbruck, Austria, (1964 and 1976).
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Figure skating, whether one likes it or not, has increased in popularity, so a host needs a big arena simply for that discipline and another big arena (or two) for hockey, particularly with the NHL involved.
Herb Brooks Arena, known as the Olympic Center in 1980, seated 7,700 and hosted both hockey and figure skating. As it turned out, that arena was outdated in size by the end of those Olympics — U-S-A! — and would be a nonstarter today.
A host also needs sites for snowboarding and freestyle skiing. Of course, these sports belong in the Winter Games, yet they do require more terrain.
Thus, the Winter Olympics needs places with cities, to accommodate bigger arenas, and near mountains, for the stuff.
There just aren't many places in the world that have that.
And before you say Denver and Vail could do that — no. You saw how long it took to add a lane to the tunnels near Idaho Springs. Nothing resembling high-speed rail is coming to our area before, say, 2500. And that would involve a ton of money which brings us to our next point.
The Sochi effect
Again, the Winter Games used to be more of Mom-and-Pop organization in their early years. The 1960 edition in Squaw Valley, California, was only 10 days and cost $80 million. Thirty nations attended, and they competed in four sports — hockey, skating, skiing and biathlon.
With more sports comes more money. Again, we like the additions of snowboarding, freestyle skiing and the hypnotic allure of curling among others.
The transition point came after Lillehammer, Norway, the last true alpine venue, hosted in 1994. Though modest by today's standards, the 1994 Winter Olympics budget was $1.1 billion.
Watch the trend:
• Nagano, Japan, 1998: We don't know. A member of the bid committee burned the documents. That can't be good.
• Salt Lake City, 2002: $2 billion.
• Turin, Italy, 2006: $700 million.
• Vancouver, 2010: $1.8 billion.
• Sochi, Russia, 2014: $51 billion.
The Winter Games were trending upward already and then the Russians kind of blew the bank in 2014. That happens when you have to build everything for a Winter Olympics, built in a non-winter climate.
If that's what it costs to host the games, then nobody wants it. Logical countries such as Germany (Munich and Garmisch), Canada (Quebec City) and Austria/Italy (a joint bid with Innsbruck and Trentino) said no before the bidding even started.
Oslo and Stockholm as well as Krakow, Poland, dropped out during the bidding, primarily because of balking at the price. Lviv, Ukraine, also bowed out, but that was obviously because the country is in a serious political situation.
They've always been a part of the Olympic movement from the start, be it influence peddling (when hasn't it happened?), national agendas (1936 in Berlin, as well as boycotts in 1980 and 1984) and terrorism (most notably 1972 in Munich, but also 1996 in Atlanta.)
And politics is the only reason there were still bidders left for 2022. Just as was the case in 2008 for the summer, Beijing will use the Winter Olympics to promote itself on the world stage. Almaty in energy-rich Kazakhstan was hoping to do the same.
We'd be naive to declare the Olympics a politics-free zone. After all, we all get on our jingoistic horse when the Americans bring home the gold in either the summer of the winter. And, yes, probably the greatest Olympic moment remains 'Miracle on Ice," a mini-Cold War of a hockey game.
The IOC announced at the end of last year, some reforms in the bidding process, capping the number of sports and allowing countries to share a bid to pool resources such as facilities.
Let's take this one step further.
The Winter Games will rotate every four years among four zones.
Zone A: North America … Vancouver and Whistler already have the infrastructure as does Salt Lake City. Presumably if other regions such as Quebec and some place in the eastern U.S. wants to give it go with minimal cost, they can host, too.
Zone B: The Alps … It's the birthplace of the Winter Games with numerous sites in numerous countries with mountains not overly far from cities with arenas and stadiums. One can see many two-nation combination hosts such as Austria-Switzerland or France-Italy, etc. Sentimentally, I'd love to see some of the former Yugoslavian nations work together to bring back the Olympics after Sarajevo 1984.
Zone C: Nordic countries/Russia … Norway and Sweden could certainly do it on their own or team up with Finland. And, let's face it, in another 20 years — hopefully, Putin will not be in power — Russia's going to want to host again, perhaps on a smaller scale.
Zone D: Asia … Pyeongchang, South Korea, the site of 2018, is actually in the mountains, a novel concept. Its proposal was built around being relatively compact. Let's see how this goes. Also don't forget that Nagano (1998) and Sapporo (1972) in Japan have already hosted.
This keeps the "Winter" in the Winter Olympics and continues to spread the games around the world without breaking the bank.
By the way, if they every figure out where the alpine venue is in relation to Beijing in 2022, I take Mikaela Shiffrin in the slalom.
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