Anchorage to explore Winter Olympics bid

Casey Grove

They say Olympic dreams die hard. Such is the case with Anchorage's hopes for hosting the Winter Games.

Mayor Dan Sullivan announced this week that he is looking for volunteers, both young and old, to form an exploratory committee to look into a possible bid for the 2026 Winter Olympic Games. Communities across the state would help host the games, Sullivan said.

The idea comes roughly 30 years after the push to bring the 1992 and 1994 games to Alaska, efforts that ultimately lost out to Albertville, France, and Lillehammer, Norway, respectively.

This time, Sullivan says, things are different.

"I'd like to think we've become a better city, in virtually every category, since that time," Sullivan said.

Anchorage has grown by about 100,000 people since then, Sullivan said. It also holds more hotel rooms and other amenities for visitors and features better athletic facilities, he said. Plus, Alaska's geographical location and its time zone for TV broadcasts are also major selling points, the mayor said.

"We're really just testing the waters to see what kind of community interest there might be, what kind of national and international interest there might be, and also to re-evaluate the bid that got us the (national committee) selection ... and find out how much of that data is still available."

In the 1980s, Anchorage won the U.S. Olympic Committee's support and the right to compete internationally with other hopeful cities for the 1992 games and then the 1994 games. The bid for the 1992 Olympics, awarded to Albertville in 1986, was about Anchorage getting its feet wet. The bid for the 1994 Olympics was about getting tantalizing close.

The Anchorage Organizing Committee members flew to Seoul, South Korea, in 1988 to present their plans to host the 1994 games to the International Olympic Committee.

Early votes by the International Olympic Committee were close. And Anchorage did not lose the bid because its facilities or plans to build were lacking, said former Mayor Rick Mystrom, who chaired the city's Olympics organizing committee. Instead, it was about simmering Cold War hostilities, Mystrom said.

In the first round of voting, Lillehammer had 25 votes to Anchorage's 23, Mystrom said.

"We were right there," he said.

In third and fourth place were Ostersund, Sweden, and Sofia, Bulgaria, Mystrom said. Sofia's votes came from Soviet-sympathetic members, who, when the Bulgarian city was eliminated after that round, had no intention of voting for a city in the United States, Mystrom said.

"We were their Cold War enemy. We didn't get a single vote in the second round," he said.

Talking about how Anchorage would compete on that international level again might be getting a little ahead of the game, so to speak. First, a bid must beat out other U.S. cities, said Mystrom, who's been keeping up on other hopefuls for 2026.

Boosters in Reno, Nev., with winter-sports-friendly Lake Tahoe nearby in California, have already expressed interest, Mystrom said. So has Salt Lake City, he said. Denver, and Lake Placid, N.Y., could throw their names in the hat, too, Mystrom said.

"We've beaten those cities before," he said.

With the "reservoir of good will" built up with the International Olympic Committee in the previous bid, Mystrom thinks Anchorage would have a good shot at getting the games in 13 years.

First, though, the city might have to convince its residents to back the idea.

Years before the Anchorage Organizing Committee's international pitch in 1988, people like Mystrom were trying hard to sell the idea to Anchorage voters. Residents ultimately voted twice by a 2-1 margin in favor of spending public money to cover construction and other costs, if needed. But critics still worried the cost estimates were growing out of control.

One example cited at the time was an Olympics spending debacle in Montreal, Canada. Organizers for the Summer Olympics held there in 1976 planned to spend $310 million, but the games put the city $1 billion in debt.

Mystrom said the television revenue Anchorage might take in would likely, by itself, cover the city's costs. Sullivan echoed that sentiment.

"The goal is that you do not have to spend a significant amount of public money, between the support of the (U.S.) Olympic Committee, the International Committee, the television revenue and all the other ways you can raise money," Sullivan said.

In the coming weeks, the mayor's staff will be compiling a list of potential members for the exploratory committee, which Sullivan said will be a combination of former committee members and fresh faces.

"It's time, certainly, for a new generation to carry the torch and be the lead on this new effort," Sullivan said.


Reach Casey Grove at or 257-4589.