Denver 1976 - The First NOlympic City

In the wake of Rome's decision not to run for the 2024 Summer Games, it is interesting to remember that the first NOlympic city made headlines 40 years ago. When the 1976 Winter Games were opened in Innsbruck, Austria, on February 4th, the town had one of the shortest time spans to prepare in the history of the Olympics - only four years. Originally, the IOC had had completely other plans. At the closing ceremony of the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics, it had invited the youth of the world to reassemble four years from there in Denver, Co. (picture: Business Insider Australia).

The Mile High City hat edged out Vanocuver, BC, Sion, Switzerland, and Tampere, Finland, in the race for the 1976 Games in May 1970. The arguments for hosting the Olympics were quite similar to the ones used today: profit, prestige, development. This promotional video by the Denver Chamber of Commerce makes the intentions of the candidature clear:

But by the time of the Sapporo Games, clouds of doubt had already begun to overshadow Denver's effort. Many people questioned the ecological sustainability of a Winter Games whiches venues would be spread all over the state. Still, the main point of discussion was money. In the 1970s, most of the revenue of the Games came from selling TV rights with corporate sponsorship still non-existent. The rest had to come from public sources - and that is where the protest started.

While Sapporo had cost roughly $70 million, Denver officials claimed they would need only $30 million. Doubts about this rather low price tag spread immediately. Reports were leaked that the 1960 Squaw Valley Games had cost Californias's taxpayers $13.5 million, instead of the estimated $1 million. Rumors about exploding costs in Montreal, host oft the 1976 Summer Games, further fuelled the nervousness in Colorado.

When two State Representatives, Bob Jackson and future governor Dick Lamm, started to publicly criticize ecological and economical aspects, the protest against the Games errupted full scale. Looking back in 2009, Lamm told the Colorado Daily: "The organizing committee here was in way over their heads. They overestimated the benefits and underestimated the costs. Colorado was generally persuaded that they didn't have an adequate grasp on the figures and Colorado was very much liable to have to fund dramatic cost overruns." (picture: Westword)

After lots of discussions and two years of extensive PR campaigning on both sides, it came down to the voters. On November 7th, 1972, the people of Colorado had to descide wether to support a public bond issue for the Games worth $5 million. This sums seems absurdly low from today's perspective. It was not in 1972: By a vast margin of 60 to 40 percent, Colorado said NOlympics.

It took the organizers only one week to hand the 1976 Winter Olympics back to the IOC. (picture: Vintage Ski World)

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