Colorado refused to play

  • Dick Lamm, former Colorado governor

    Kent and Donna Dannen
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

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 debt.

"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 projected.

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 taxes."

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 they needed.

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 them away.

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 long run.

"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.

"You can 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?"

High Country News Classifieds
  • CLIMATE CHANGE COORDINATOR
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is seeking a Climate Change Coordinator to play a lead role in shaping our programs to make the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Position Announcement POSITION TITLE: Executive Director ORGANIZATION: Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument REPORTING TO: Board of Directors EMPLOYMENT TYPE: Part-time - Full-time, based...
  • HEALTHY CITIES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Healthy Cities Program Director leads and manages the Healthy Cities Program for the Arizona Chapter and is responsible for developing and implementing innovative, high...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Conservation Programs Manager Job Opening Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Associate Director Job Posting Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through science,...
  • UNIQUE, ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME ON ACREAGE NEAR MOSCOW, IDAHO
    Custom-built energy-efficient 3000 sqft two-story 3BR home, 900 sqft 1 BR accessory cottage above 2-car garage and large shop. Large horse barn. $1,200,000. See online...
  • OUTDOOR ADVENTURE BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures (MOLA) - established and profitable outdoor adventure & education business in Missoula, Montana. Summer camp, raft & climb guide, teen travel,...
  • OJO SARCO FARM/HOME
    A wonderful country setting for a farm/work 1350s.f. frame home plus 1000 studio/workshop. 5 acres w fruit trees, an irrigation well, pasture and a small...
  • STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for people and wildlife. Skagit Land...
  • 2022 SEASONAL SCIENCE EDUCATOR
    The Mount St. Helens Institute Science Educator supports our science education and rental programs including day and overnight programs for youth ages 6-18, their families...
  • POLICY DIRECTOR
    Heart of the Rockies Initiative is seeking a Policy Director to lead and define policy efforts to advance our mission to keep working lands and...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Self-Help Enterprises seeks an experienced and strategic CFO
  • CONSERVATION SPECIALIST - LAND PROTECTION FOCUS
    View full job description and how to apply at
  • RIVER EDUCATOR & GUIDE
    River Educator & Guide River Educator & Guide (Trip Leader) Non-exempt, Seasonal Position: Full-time OR part-time (early April through October; may be flexible with start/end...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • FOOD SYSTEMS ENVIRONMENTAL FELLOWSHIP
    If you were to design a sustainable society from the ground up, it would look nothing like the contemporary United States. But what would it...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is seeking an Executive Director who will lead RiGHT toward a future of continued high conservation impact, organizational...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Help protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Work hard, meet good people, make the world a better place!...
  • NEW BOOK:
    True Wildlife Tales From Boy to Man. Finding my voice to save wildlife in the Apache spirit. 365+ vivid colorful pictures. Buy on Amazon/John Wachholz
  • CHIEF OPERATIONS OFFICER
    with Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Apply here: https://www.marcumllp.com/executive-search/chief-operations-officer-rcac