Alaska Notebook: Rekindle that Olympic dream

Mayor Dan Sullivan has an exploratory committee looking into whether Anchorage should make a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Alaskans of a certain age will remember the mid-'80s when Anchorage was chosen as U.S. candidate for the 1992 and then the 1994 games. Those games went to Albertville in France and Lillehammer in Norway.

Anchorage was dropped as the U.S. bidder in favor of Salt Lake City, which hosted the games in 2002.

But we did have a long-running campaign that left us with lessons to remember. Organizers of the Anchorage bid hoped to emulate the Los Angeles summer games model of 1984: no public money and a profit to boot.

But over time, residents who had voted by 2-to-1 margins to support the Olympics here learned that public money likely would be needed, and that -- oh, by the way -- Anchorage, meaning Anchorage taxpayers, would be on the hook for any debt. Cities like Montreal and Lake Placid, N.Y., knew all about Olympic-sized debt.

The lesson is not to step away from hosting the Olympics or spending public money on them, but to spend wisely and with no surprises. Let everybody know what's going on, what it's going to cost and who's going to pay.

We're a long way from preparing a bid. Even so, imagine what we might do to top some of the dramatic lightings of the Olympic flame. I'm thinking of Barcelona in 1992, when the paralympic archer ignited the fire of the games with a flaming arrow, or the ski jumper's vault in Lillehammer in 1994.

We could take a page from "The Lord of the Rings" and the lighting of the beacons that summoned help to Gondor. Imagine multiple Olympic fires on the peaks of the front range of the Chugach, and then down to Girdwood, ignited in succession by backcountry skiers and burning for the duration of the Games, seen with equal ease from the trails of Kincaid Park, the parking lot of Sullivan Arena and the slopes of Alyeska.

Long shot? Sure, and we'll fuel those beacons with North Slope gas. What will Alaskans see first -- an Anchorage Olympics or a gas pipeline?

-- Frank Gerjevic

by Frank Gerjevic