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Throwback: When Denver nearly played host to the Olympic Winter Games

Denver City skyline and City Park at sunset in warm orange glow

The host that never was


The Olympic Winter Games Innsbruck 1976 became synonymous with Franz Klammer’s downhill gold on the slopes and John Curry taking the men’s figure skating title.

But the Austrian city was never destined to play host that year, with the plan originally for them to take place in the United States in Denver.

The thinking behind Denver as hosts, a role it was awarded in 1970, were wise as the United States celebrated 200 years of independence as well as a century since Colorado was founded when President Ulysess S. Grant admitted it to the Union as the 38th State.

But the Games never materialised in Denver for two reasons: spiralling costs and concerns about the environmental impact on the area.


Voting against the Games

Having originally budgeted for USD 30m to prepare the infrastructure for those Games, it was estimated such costs would spiral to as much as USD 110m.

So the public went to the ballot box on 7 November, 1972, to effectively reject being the Games hosts four years later by a margin of three to two in a debate which had split the city. A week later, their invitation to host the Games was removed.

The Games were offered to Whistler,  Canada which was rejected, while Salt Lake City and Lake Placid in the United States  – all three of which would become Winter Games hosts in the future – also turned down the opportunity to host.

In the end, Innsbruck stepped in to house the Games.

Fifty years on from that decision, Denver could yet be the venue for the Winter Games in 2026, with the US Olympic Committee stating it was one of the cities being looked at for that role.


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