Friday, February 23, 2018

Whither Winter 2026?

The Olympic host cities for the 2020s have pretty much been settled upon and chosen.  Every Olympiad, winter and summer, scheduled for the next decade or so has been awarded to a host city . . . except the 2026 Winter Olympics.
Even though it was difficult to get a lot of bidders for 2022, the competition for the chance to host the 2026 Winter Olympics is already underway, with several cities in the running.  With the 2022 Winter Games having been awarded to Beijing - the largest city by far to host the Winter Olympics but also the third consecutive host city, for Winter or Summer Olympics, in a neighborhood made dangerous by Kim Jong Un's nukes - the next winter Olympiad is likely to be held in the West.
The idea of the Winter Games in Beijing so soon after China's capital hosted the 2008 Summer Games still disgusts me.  Not just because of that, but also because of the size of the city and the loss of intimacy normally associated with the smaller Winter Olympic Games compared to the regular Olympics.  That's why I prefer to see a small town or compact city host the Winter Games. And for that reason, I always appreciate NBC's fake-ski-lodge studio sets at the Winter Olympic international broadcast centers.  I've never been to a winter Olympiad, but when I watch one on TV I want to feel like I'm there . . . I want to see the little town square in whatever obscure burg is hosting the Games and feel like I'm walking through one of those charming public spaces!  I want to see Mike Tirico sit on a couch in a stone-plaster-walled room in front of a fake fireplace and feel like I'm in a nice, cozy ski lodge drinking hot chocolate, mingling with other fans and with the athletes and trading Olympic pins!  I want to be the all-American boy in St. Moritz!  I want to be . . . I want to be the all-American kid from New Jersey hobnobbing with the athletes and the other fans in some chalet in the Swiss Freakin' Alps with the snow drifting outside the window and a crackling fire in the lounge fireplace - how romantic! - and all I gotta do is turn on the TV and see a nice chalet in the Swiss Alps even though it's a fake studio set and the fire in the fireplace is an electronically generated visual effect  that Stephen Colbert can roll himself in!
Beijing doesn't seem very promising for that.
Be that as it may, several towns have placed bids or expressed interest in bidding for 2026.  Sion, Switzerland, the very definition of a cozy Alpine winter-sport town, and the larger but still intimate Graz, Austria, just southeast of the Alps, are interested, as is Aosta, Italy, also in Alpine region.  Even a Turkish town has considered bidding; Erzurum, in the northeastern part of the country, has several skiing and skating venues.  It hosted the 2011 Winter World University Games, or Universiade, and the 2017 European Youth Winter Olympic Festival, and the locals apparently would like to kick it up a notch.  Not an Alpine town, no, and larger than Sion or Graz, but it might still have that Alpine-town feel.
The 2026 Winter Games also have small towns and compact cities that have hosted the Winter Games before that are considering bidding for them, though, including Calgary, Alberta, Canada (the 1988 Winter Olympics host), and, despite two Winter Olympiads in a row held in the Far East, Sapporo, Japan (the 1972 host).  The thing here is that previous experience is an asset.  The year 2026 happens to be the sestercentennial, or 250th-anniversary, year of American independence, and so several American towns had considered going for the Winter Games to likely celebrate the U.S. quarter-millennium, including Boston, Bozeman (in Montana), and even Salt Lake City (2002), the last American Winter Olympics host city.  The United States Olympic Committee put the kibosh on that, though, when it said earlier this month that it would prefer to wait for 2030 to have an American Winter Olympic bid.  It's just as well.  The last thing the world needs is a display of jingoistic American nationalism at the Winter Olympics during this country's 250th birthday.  And it's too close to the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
And although its mayor denies it, 2022 also-ran Almaty, Kazakhstan is considering a Winter Olympic bid for 2026.  Quebec City - a place I've actually been to, and a city famous for its winter carnival - is also looking at bidding.
The only problem is that holding a Winter Olympiad in a small town or a compact city going forward may be impractical, and Erzurum, Turkey has the added disadvantage of its proximity to troubled places such as Iraq, Syria and the Transcaucasian States - Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.  Beijing, a large city that has the experience of having hosted a summer Olympiad, may be the start of a new trend for the Winter Olympics - bigger cities with previous experience with major sporting events may be the only ones to pull the Winter Games off.  Little PyeongChang, in hosting the 2018 Winter Games, may mark the end of an era.  Among the other cities considering bids for 2026 - 1992 Summer Olympics host Barcelona.  Bear in mind that the Winter Olympics have grown over the decades, with more events, more athletes from more countries - good grief, snowless countries like Jamaica and Nigeria are sending bobsledders! - and more costs.  I still hope that a small municipality - the smaller the better - gets the Winter Games . . . another Albertville (the 1992 host, population 18,950), Lake Placid (1932 and 1980, population 2,438) Cortina d'Ampezzo (1956, population 6,150), or St. Moritz (1928 and 1948, population 5,084).
But I guess I'm just a hopeless romantic.  Maybe too hopelessly romantic.  This is the Laudinella Hotel in St. Moritz.
Not very romantic-looking, is it? 
The 2026 Winter Olympics will be awarded to a city in September 2019.

No comments: