Less talk about legacy and more Happy Birthdays – it’s time to accept the inevitable Salt Lake City 2034 Winter Olympics bid result and move on

After Friday, the third day into the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) four day evaluation of its preferred candidate for 2034, maybe it's time to flip the script

IOC Future Host Commission's Hong Zhang reunites with "sister" at Utah Olympic Oval, April 12, 2024 (GamesBids Photo)
IOC Future Host Commission’s Hong Zhang (right) reunites with “sister” teammate Tianyu Fu at Utah Olympic Oval, April 12, 2024 (GamesBids Photo)

Reporting from Salt Lake City, Utah – It was a day of welcome back.

It was a day of remember when.

It was even a day of happy birthday.

The Salt Lake City 2034 Olympic and Paralympic Games isn’t a thing yet. It’s not official. Whatever that means.

On Friday, the third day into the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) four day evaluation of its preferred candidate for 2034 – it seemed like it has always been a thing.

A second once-in-a-lifetime.

The IOC’s Future Host Commission (FHC) had a hectic schedule of important work, reviewing the current status of proposed venues and then discussing what they found in meetings behind closed doors.


Sure, those things did happen – but so did this.

Chinese FHC member Hong Zhang was a gold medalist in speed skating at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games. She is also a member of the IOC’s Athletes Commission, was a member of the 2026 Winter Games Evaluation Commission and is a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Quite a resume.

It was all business for her Friday as she exited a shuttle bus at the Utah Olympic Oval – the same venue where she set a Chinese national record in 2015 in the 500m speed skating event, her best result to date.

Then it got real.

She squinted through the gathered reporters, and just beyond noticed a familiar face, or two.

She screamed, ran up to her friends and said “oh my god,” offering a warm embrace.

These were her training partners, or “sisters” as she later described them.

The reunion caught the attention of the news photographers and video journalists who swarmed in to capture something that, quite honestly, wasn’t just talk about legacy and transportation and budgets. We’ve already done that to death.

That moment told a more important story than anything else.

Zhang, who had carried a more restrained public disposition in Utah from the start, changed her demeanor entirely.

Maybe it was the stress of the busy day, the overdose of mountain air, the emotions of the reunion with her sisters, the magic of sport or a combination of all of these things.

She suddenly exploded with emotion, opening up to gathered reporters about how the Oval is a special place to her, and how proud she is that her record time is still intact.

“I’m so happy to be back,” she said with a genuine smile and laugh.

And she promised to return to skate again when there is more time. In 2034? She didn’t say. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t about the bid, it was about the place.

Then, if it wasn’t already obvious that she was having one of her best days, she volunteered this:

“Today is a special day for me, because today is my birthday.”

Salt Lake City got to her. Is it the dry air? Are they putting something in the water? Really, I don’t know – it’s my first visit to the state.

Zhang was whisked away to hear more about a venue she’s very familiar with – then to attend some meetings regarding finances.

Again, boring.

But there’s more.

Commission chair Karl Stoss shared a story with journalists about Austrian compatriot Fritz Strobl’s gold medal win at the 2002 Games on the Snowbasin men’s downhill run – while pointing and standing at the top of the same run for his first time.

Stoss didn’t attend in 2002, but he said he watched from home.

“It is so steep here, you couldn’t imagine it if you were in front of the TV.”

“It’s a beautiful venue, fantastic.”

A good place for the 2034 Games? He didn’t then say, he was just further authenticating a magical personal memory.

Throughout the visit Stoss has frequently mentioned his national athletes with pride and enthusiasm. On Friday an Austrian flag was raised along with the American flag and the Utah state flag in front of the Olympic Oval. SLC-UT CEO Fraser Bullock explained to Stoss that this was done to make up for a missing Austrian flag at a previous venue.

They laughed.

On Thursday night some Commission members went to the Delta Center to watch the NBA’s Utah Jazz defeat the Houston Rockets 124-121 in the final home game of the season. Just before the start of the game they were ushered into their courtside seats.

At half time they took a group photo on the court, and then were escorted out through the players entrance for some refreshments. Commission member Samira Asghari, who was captain of Afghanistan’s women’s national basketball team, spotted a ball and picked it up. She looked towards the basket and made a few movements, but didn’t take the shot you know she wanted to try.

Maybe one day I’ll have an opportunity with her to discuss the long journey to this possibly iconic moment in Salt Lake City. And remember, there is no basketball planned for the 2034 Winter Games.

We all know what’s going to happen here. We know what will happen in June when the IOC Executives read the Future Host Commission’s report and decide whether they’ll endorse it. We also know what will happen on July 24 in Paris when 100-or-so IOC members are asked to cast ballots.

Yes, it’s about venues and finances and transportation and stakeholder support. But all of that is already squared away. On Thursday IOC Executive Director Christophe Dubi urged bid organizers to slow down with 10 years to go, and to proceed more thoughtfully to create better community results.

So why are we still talking about this ‘bid’?

Let’s switch the dialogue to people, places and moments. The real stuff. Isn’t that what sports and the Olympics are all about?

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.

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