The Olympics That Weren’t

Denver Olympics PatchI have mentioned previously that Colorado became a skier’s mecca in the 1960s. What better way to cement that status than to host a Winter Olympics! Colorado Governor John Love appointed Merrill Hastings to head a committee tasked with securing the Winter Olympics for Colorado. Merrill Hastings was a 10th Mountain Division skier and originally from New England. After the war he moved to Colorado where he founded SKIING magazine. Hastings organized a bid to have Denver host the 1976 Winter Olympics. In May 1970 the IOC met to consider the bids of Denver; Sion, Switzerland; Tampere, Finland; and Vancouver, Canada. They awarded the games to Denver.

Coloradans initially celebrated the idea that they would host the world, but soon complications began to arise. The original proposal was to have all the events within an hour’s drive of Denver, but it became obvious that wasn’t realistic. Vail could host the alpine events and Steamboat the nordic events, however they were two hour and three hour drives from Denver. And the costs began to escalate – originally estimated to be $14 million, they were up to $35 million and rising.

Enter Dick Lamm who in 1972 was a state legislator in Colorado with political ambitions. He headed a group called Citizens for Colorado’s Future who opposed the Olympics for both cost and environmental reasons. They successfully proposed an amendment to the state’s constitution that would ban the state from spending any money on the Olympics. This amendment went to Colorado voters in November of 1972. Coloradans voted in favor of the amendment and against the Denver Olympics by a surprisingly large margin. Without state funding and the corresponding federal funding there could be no Denver Olympics.

Innsbruck 1876 LogoThe IOC then had the problem of where to have the 1976 Winter Olympics on relatively short notice. The IOC approached Vancouver, but they declined. Salt Lake City offered, but the IOC declined. Innsbruck who had most of the facilities thanks to the 1964 Olympics eventually stepped forward and hosted the 1976 Winter Olympics.

Nicole Williams was the first to correctly identify Denver as the original site for the 1976 winter games. I was intrigued since Nicole’s e-mail address was at so I asked her how she came across my column. She responded that someone had tweeted her about my column. It’s always amazing in our interconnected world to see how information travels. I don’t tweet, but it’s nice to be tweeted about!

Richard "Dick" LammBack to Colorado: having quashed the Denver Olympics, Dick Lamm would cash in on his success by running for Governor in 1974 and winning. He would serve three four-year terms. Some of the development that Coloradans feared from the Olympics happened anyway. Interstate 70 would generate sprawl right through the mountains. Beaver Creek, originally conceived for the Olympics, was completed in 1980. Coloradans are still debating today whether rejecting the 1976 Olympics was the right choice or not.

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