Chicago gets lucky, dodges Oly bullet

This just in: Chicago didn’t get the 2016 Olympic games.

Lucky them. No, seriously.

The story at the Chicago Tribune is here (click) and I am being perfectly serious. I speak from experience.

Utah had an Olympic games once. We bribed people to get them — my favorite bribe was the hundreds of dollars worth of door knobs someone on the IOC got — and lobbied like heck, and spent a gazillion dollars and got out of it, as near as I can see, nothing.

OK, we got world wide fame. We got some nifty pictures on our highway overpasses. We all have drawers full of cute little pins.


We spent billions of federal welfare building up I-15 in Salt Lake County (which work was done with so much quality and foresight that chunks of it are already being torn out and re-done), sports venues for the rich to play on and who knows what else. Thousands of Utahns got short-term work at minimum wage, thousands more volunteered to work for free in exchange for the experience.

But that was it.

Ogden got bupkis out of it. All the international exposure may have made money for Earl Holding and Snow Basin, but it didn’t do anything for me, or my neighbors.

OK, it joined with the housing boom to boost the values of homes in Ogden Valley and Ogden’s bench, raising everyone’s property taxes. Some say that’s good, but the widows in Huntsville who are losing their homes because they can’t pay their taxes now may disagree.

Ogden claims to be using the afterglow of the games to boost its own effort to be a winter sports mecca. That may be true, but if  it is it was a darned expensive PR campaign, billions of dollars just so some guy in an office can tell Mayor Godfrey, “Hey, I saw you guys on TV.”

Really, we could have spent a lot less money boosting Utah and gotten the same thing. Oh, wait, no, that would mean we would have to spend our own money. The Olympics let us spend federal money to spread the word of how self-sufficient, worker-friendly and anti-big government Utah is.

Sorry, I know I sound cynical, but what’s not to be cynical about the Olympic games? They meant something once, back when Jim Thorpe was losing his medals for having the gall to play pro-football one summer to make food money, but now they’re just a ticket to well-paid fame for a bunch of coddled and very rich athletes who work for advertising companies. They are a massive corporate party that moves around the planet, extorting millions, if not billions, from communities in exchange for the right to have the Olympic brilliance settle down for a couple of weeks. The towns make a little money selling pins, get some publicity, and get to clean up the mess.

The games do not create lasting economic activity. They contract with national and international corporations to do the big stuff — Mitt Romney was not a Utahn before he was hired and is not a Utahn now — sending all the big salaries right back out of town again. Any jobs created for the locals are 1-time construction or minimum wage hot dog slinging.

If the Olympic games were really about competition and fairness and all that they’d pick one spot and hold them there every four years. There’s no money in that idea, just good athletics, so it will never happen.

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12 Responses to Chicago gets lucky, dodges Oly bullet

  1. Mark Shenefelt says:

    Can’t argue with your post, Charlie. The Olympics have become an expensive anachronism. I was surprised when I heard Obama was going to make a personal pitch for Chicago’s bid, but on reflection, it did make sense for him to try to deliver some bacon back to the bunch in Chicago. That’s what politicians do.

    However … I’m honestly scratching my head about the exhilarated crowing over the failed Chicago Oly bid. Guess sticking it to Obama is all-important.

  2. Neal Humphrey says:

    The Olympics got luck and dodged the Chicago bullet(s).

  3. Sylvia Newman says:

    I don’t agree, Charlie. The Ogden Ice Sheet is so busy, they have practices there 24 hours a day. If you’re a skiier (or someone who likes tourist dollars), the road to Snowbasin is a Godsend. My sons and I (back when I was a poor, single mom) went to the Olympic Park in downtown SLC and had a great and cheap time. Later, after the Olympics, we have enjoyed the Olympic Park in Park City. Ogden has benefited from having at least a couple of curling conventions/competitions. Curlers had never heard of Ogden before the Olympics. As to the bribery stuff? I’m not condoning it at all, but I never could figure out why the stuff the IOC and hopeful cities had been doing for years and years and was considered the status quo all of a sudden was a big deal when Utah went after them. I guess I’m glad that happened, though, because it brought to light what a scummy bunch of folk the IOC is and it shook up the status quo. So, in my book, the bribery scandal was a good thing.

  4. ctrentelman says:

    Sylvia, Earl Holding’s $15 million road from Trapper’s Loop to Snowbasin was corporate welfare at its worst — I’m frankly amazed to see you support it. Sure, it made access a lot easier, no question, but Holding could have paid for it out of his pocket change and had lint left over — it was rich guys — Sen. Bennett and the rest of the millionaires club we call Congress — taking care of rich guys and we, the taxpayer, footing the fill.

    I’m a conservative — I think billionaires should pay for their own roads to their own ski resorts. If it’s such good business, why not?

  5. Sylvia Newman says:

    I’m not going to argue the Holding thing. I don’t know enough to do it intelligently. But I will say that road is benefiting far more people than Holding.

    Anyway, as I pondered your post further, two additional things came to mind: first, why is what it did for you and your neighbors a criterion? Is it a social program? Second, I remembered the purchase and renovation of the Eccles bldg, now Hampton Inn, done specifically for the Olympics (though they were a little late, if I recall). I’m grateful every time I go downtown for that. Although I’ve never stayed at the Hampton, I consider a functioning hotel rather than an abandoned bldg not just a boon for our city but a personal benefit to me.

    P.S. I love that your blog requires real names. I wish the Standard did the same. I can’t stand the fact that they print anonymous posts in the paper. Make people have the guts to put their names to things.

  6. flatlander100 says:


    Can it be that the IOC avoided Chicago because it had too much crime in the streets, and so it choose instead…. Rio?

    Good lord, not even the IOC [which seems to attract a disproportionate share of dunderheads as a rule] could be that clueless.

    Could it?

  7. Neal Humphrey says:

    Dr. Bob –

    I presume you’re being droll. Still, I doubt Chicago’s crime statistics affected the IOC vote. Rio de Janeiro is hardly a model of a crime-free metropolis, rather the opposite, in fact. Security is going to be a nightmare for two reasons. One, there’s a possibility that a reasonable level of security will never be achieved. Two, on the way to achieving whatever level of security they can get, the Brazilian authorities will be brutal.

    However, to sustain the jocularity, yesterday Chicago Sun Times political reporter Abdon M. Pallasch blamed the failure of his city’s Olympic bid on George Bush.

  8. flatlander100 says:


    Blamed it on Bush? That’s ridiculous.
    Everyone knows losing the bid was Reagan’s fault. [grin]

  9. Tom says:

    So Mr. T, what’s wrong with a bunch of fat cats spending a billion of the tax payer’s dough so that I could call my friends back east and brag that I grew up in that town they had such beautiful TeeVee shots of over Mt. Ogden, and that I used to ski on those very same slopes? Hey, they were jealous so that alone was worth the billion to me!

  10. ctrentelman says:

    sylvia —

    I’m using myself as a criteria because, well, isn’t that the American way? It’s all about me.

    I’m being snarky, of course — but really, we were told the Olympics would be this huge economic boon to Utah, which sort of makes it a social program since it asks us all to support it because of the good it will bring.

    All infracture building is a social program, at its bottom. My complaint is that most of the people who made the big money off of the Olympics were out of towners following a movable feast around the world, while us locals got a lot of min wage jobs.

    The games preparation DID bring a lot of economic activity, but the vast majority of that was government funded 1-time spending, not sustainable job economy building — road construction, infrastructure improvement, and so on.

    To give Holding his due, he did spend close to $100 million of his own money on Snowbasin, but the $15 million to build a road from Trapper’s Loop to his new resort came right out of the taxpayer’s pocket, which makes it welfare in my book.

    Interestingly, I hear this sort of welfare justified by lawmakers a lot because they say it brings economic development that, ultimately, pays the state back. Lawmakers, sadly, can’t see that same benefit in funding higher education. But I digress.

    You also have to know that, when Utah was voting to use taxpayer money to “improve” the road from Mtn. Green to Ogden Valley (ithe original Trappers Loop road was a dirt track that is still there off to the east) part of the lobbying effort was that Holding had agreed to build a connection to his resort with his own money from that state-built road since his resort would be the prime beneficiary.

    When the time came, his rich pals in Congress decided that the Olympic downhill venues needed the second road for “security concerns” and so it qualified for federal welfare funding.

  11. dan s. says:

    Charlie, the Olympics were also a great example of the biased reporting of your own newspaper. The S-E rarely acknowledged that rational Utahns might not want the Olympics here. When the decision was made, the S-E headline was “YES!” in letters about six inches high. Why, you yourself once called me on the phone and tricked me into saying something not so complimentary about Gray Reynolds, just to show what a naysayer I am.

    So after all that, I’m frankly surprised that you’ve become such a naysayer yourself. And I, the habitual naysayer, have to admit that the Olympics brought some good things: TRAX to the U, a renovated Eccles Building (now Hampton Inn), and car-free bicycling on the old Snowbasin highway. In the end it’s a mixed bag, and I certainly agree that much of the money could have been better spent.

    Incidentally, readers might like to take a look at what I wrote about the Olympics back in 2002:

  12. Charles Trentelman says:

    if we’re claiming early cred to criticizing the olympics, here’s a column I did in 2001:

    By Charles Trentelman

    Wasatch Rambler

    A note to Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and someone with more chutzpah than anyone else I know:

    Dear Mitt:

    Did you really say the Olympics are a charity? Of course you did.

    You asked Salt Lake, Summit and Weber counties not to charge property taxes on your facilities $1.8 million because the Olympics are a charity.

    You said SLOC meets the legal definition of a charity because it does ski races for handicapped athletes and we are not a business in that there are no dividends, no profits paid to owners, and no bonuses to employees.

    Look, Mitt, fun is fun, but that’s a bit of a stretch. The Olympic movement is a big money game and a major industry. You could call it charity, but only if you have a sense of humor.

    I remember the efforts to bring the 1998 Winter Games to Utah. There was much wining and dining of visiting dignitaries, but nobody stood in line at the Rescue Mission. Instead, hotel bathrooms were stocked with little tidbits to make the dignitaries feel at home, such as their favorite toothpaste.

    No kidding. Some charitable soul found out the visiting International Olympic Committee members’ personal choices and had them shipped to Utah.

    And of course, in the *Daily Games campaign, I remember SLOC trying to pass off bribes as charitable scholarships for poverty stricken IOC members’ children. Charity even extended to $20,000 to send three couples to the Super Bowl.

    And there’s my personal favorite: The door knobs.

    You gotta love $673 in door knobs that someone bought an IOC visitor. Well, charity begins at home and every home has a door.

    But charity has little to do with the billions of dollars you are making for your many sponsors and others.

    Sure, you and they do some charitable work. So do lots of taxpaying companies. But the biggest job of the Olympics is to be an entertainment cash cow. I called up a real charity, St. Anne’s Shelter in Ogden. Case worker DeAnn Soto was aghast: We fight for every nickel we can get and they’re a charity? You have a $1.3 billion budget. St. Anne’s scrimps for nickels to provide a place to sleep for dozens of homeless. It feeds more than 100 hungry people every day.

    We rely heavily on Boy Scout drives and kids who want to become Eagle Scouts, Soto told me. Or people who clean out their closets. I know the Olympics don’t do it that way.

    St. Anne’s pays no property tax. It does a lot of good in this community and I am happy to subsidize it. But a property tax break to you, Mitt, is government welfare to a very rich and successful segment of the entertainment industry. Haven’t you got enough of that already, what with the billions spent on roads, security and whatnot?

    You don’t need more, you don’t deserve more and I will be very upset if Weber County gives any to you.

    Real charities are St. Anne’s, or the Northern Chapter of the American Red Cross or Your Community Connection.

    Many local businesses support these fine charities. Those same business also pay property taxes.

    So should you.

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