In 1972, four years before Colorado was to host the world's biggest winter sports extravaganza, the state got cold feet.
Businessmen and politicians had been
working to lure the winter Olympics to Colorado since the 1950s.
But when the Olympic flag arrived in Denver, many people began to
wonder if the thrill of victory would leave Colorado with the agony
of degraded mountains, more unwanted growth, and an Olympic-sized
"The history of the
Winter Olympics is a history of red ink," warned Democratic state
Rep. Richard Lamm. The 1960 winter games in Squaw Valley had cost
California taxpayers nine times what organizers had initially
Lamm, who would go on to serve three
terms as the state's governor, put the games on the ballot with the
damning phrase: "These are rich men's games paid for by poor men's
On Nov. 7, 1972, Colorado voters
amended the state constitution to prohibit the use of tax money on
the games. Denver residents amended the city charter to keep city
funds out of the Olympics. Without public support or today's huge
media contracts, organizers had little hope of raising the money
The international Olympic Committee
took its flag and left.
To this day, Denver is
the only city ever to win the right to host the games, only to turn
John Love, who was governor of
Colorado in 1972 and a key Olympic backer, is still stunned by the
rejection. "It seemed to me (the Olympics were like) home,
motherhood and apple pie," he says. "Growth and the movement of
people west back then was almost religion."
Ironically, a look at Denver and ski towns like Vail shows that
stopping the Olympics didn't stop growth. In fact, some Coloradans
wonder if the Olympics might have been good for the state in the
"If the Olympics had
been there, could it have been any worse?" asks Terry Minger, who
was Vail's city manager in the late 1960s and a supporter of the
games. Minger, who later worked for Lamm in the governor's office,
thinks the Olympics might have forced Colorado ski towns to plan
for transportation and affordable housing - two issues that plague
these towns today.
use "the world is coming" to your advantage if you're ready," says
Minger, whose Center for Resource Management is helping Park City,
Utah, plan for the 2002 games.
But Richard Lamm
has no regrets about running the Olympics out of Denver. "I would
really hope that Utah would ask itself a similar question," he says
today. "Who benefits? Do you really want 8 million people in Utah?
Who benefits from this?"
" Greg Hanscom and Larry