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In Ironic Twist, U.S. Back in the Game to Host Winter Olympics

1 Nov, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Want irony? The Winter Olympics is serving up a snow shovel’s worth, thanks to recent developments concerning the 2026 Games.

The backstory: In 1972, Innsbruck, Austria was awarded the 1976 Games after the USA had to back out of its position when then-host city Denver, Colorado (objecting heavily to the idea of an Olympics in its borders), held the first-ever referendum (at that time termed “the most insulting snub in Olympic history”).

This fall, Innsbruck, which had sought to put in a 2026 Winter Olympics bid (and had spectacularly offered to cross-border host with Germany for some events) had to put a screeching halt to the proceedings.

Why? A referendum.

In what might be one of the most ironic twists of fate, Tyrol voted against hosting, leaving the bid without a majority to support it.

According to an article in Inside The Games, a total of 53.35 per cent of those who voted across the 279 municipalities rejected the idea of potentially hosting the Games. Innsbruck's bid needed a simple majority in order to progress to the next stage but fell short of the required target:

Those behind the Austrian effort had been encouraged by early results, which showed more than 50 per cent were in support of their attempt at the halfway stage. In St. Anton, the proposed location for the majority of Alpine events along with Arlberg, a huge 85.12 per cent voted in favor, while in Hochfilzen, due to be the venue for biathlon, the figure was 80.71 per cent. Seefeld, which would have staged Nordic sports if the campaign from the Austrian city is successful, also gave Innsbruck's candidature the green light, with 65.40 per cent answering yes. But Kühtai, where snowboarding and freestyle competitions would be held, went against, with 56.26 per cent voting no.

With the district capital cities of Reutte, Kitzbühel, Schwaz and Lienz also voting against the bid, the Austrian government needed the support of voters in 279 municipalities in Tyrol – but they didn’t get it.

It marks the latest European city to suffer a defeat in a referendum on a bid for the Olympics and Paralympics. It’s a defeat for the IOC too, since President Thomas Bach had previously voiced his hope that the event will return to a traditional winter sport nation, with the next two editions of the Winter Olympics due to be held in Asia.

And here’s something even more ironic:

Among those expressing interest in a bid (Calgary, Canada; Almaty, Kazakhstan; Sapporo, Japan and Erzurum, Turkey) is none other than the United States. And the referendum results in Innsbruck have improved those chances of seeing a bid from this country. Salt Lake City has already formed an exploratory committee on the matter.

USOC chairman Larry Probst had previously noted the USA was eyeing a bid for 2026 or 2030. While he’d earlier noted 2030 would be a more likely opportunity, considering Los Angeles would be hosting in 2028, Probst added the USOC would “want to be in that conversation, at the table for that discussion” if the IOC pursues another double award. (And the chances are good it will.)

And in a final twist of irony, Probst made that announcement in a USOC meeting held in (wait for it) Colorado.

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