While Olympic venues remain mostly unused; Utah faces a different problem

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Olympic venues are the legacy of each host city. But Utah’s sites face the opposite situation of many others around the world: they’re almost overstretched.

Take Pyeyongchang, South Korea, where they spent $110 million on an Olympic stadium. They hosted four events, the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. Then they tore the hall down.

“Some of the other Olympic cities have what they call white elephants,” said Utah Athletic Commission CEO Jeff Robbins.

These “white elephants” are well documented, here on the financial website, Insider.

  • Athens 2004 pools are now in poor condition.
  • In Sochi, Russia, the 2014 ski venues are rarely used.
  • Sites in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil in 2016 look abandoned.

Here in Utah, our venues are four times busier than they were during games.

“It’s a living legacy,” said Colin Hilton, CEO of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation. “It’s the facilities, but more importantly it’s the people and our use of the facilities.”

Hilton says that’s an important distinction, because Olympic venues here become not only elite training centers, but also community recreation centers for all ages and abilities.

The Legacy employs 200 full-time and 400 part-time staff with the goal of developing the next generation of athletes.

“We don’t just run the facilities, we employ the coaches, and that’s a huge differentiator,” Hilton said.

At one point, they were concerned that there weren’t enough attendees. Now they are struggling to keep up with demand. The Kearns Olympic Oval, for example, operates nearly 20 hours a day. They open at 5 a.m. for national athlete training, then high school athletes, after-school learn-to-skate programs, and hockey teams that play until midnight.

“We welcome the use, it’s a good problem to have,” Hilton said.

In addition, our sites have become tourist attractions. Each year, 800,000 visitors come to Utah Olympic Park to watch aerial acrobats soar from ramps to a swimming pool or ride a bobsled.

“I don’t think there’s a place in the world that’s been able to do what we did,” Robbins said.

There have been other successes. Atlanta’s Fountain of Rings Park is still a popular family spot. And Beijing will beautify its “bird’s nest”, which hosted the 2008 opening ceremonies, to use it again in their next games.

If the games return to Salt Lake, as expected in 2030 or 2034, our venues won’t have missed a beat.

“We’ve done a great job of being ready, willing and able,” Robbins said.

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