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Colorado the only state ever to turn down Winter Olympics after winning bid

With a brash young lawyer-lawmaker named Dick Lamm leading the way, residents said they didn't want the 1976 Winter Olympics. And they said it in a big way. The landmark vote on Nov. 7, 1972, wasn't even close -- 514,228 to 350,964. A 59.4 percent majority said they weren't willing to spend tax dollars to have the Games in their state.

It was an amazing turnaround from just two and a half years earlier, when a small Denver group returned as conquering heroes from Amsterdam after meeting with the International Olympic Committee. They were greeted with a brass band and a motorcade through downtown Denver after the city was awarded the Olympics.

For others, the issue was the environment -- damage that supposedly would be caused by hordes descending on the sites of competition. No previous Winter Olympics venue had ever planned to hold the Games across such a huge area -- from Denver to Steamboat Springs, a 166-mile distance. With still others, it was the idea that more people might be lured into moving to a state that already was attracting newcomers with its snow-capped mountain peaks and wide-open spaces.

The IOC had been clear from the start. If Coloradans refused to help pay the cost, the committee would move the Games to another site. And it did -- to Innsbruck, Austria, which had hosted the Games 12 years earlier.

Sidney Bullene, the first staff member on the Denver Organizing Committee, said the ballot language was confusing. "We got very complacent," she said. "Nobody really realized we might lose this whole thing and disgrace ourselves in the eyes of the whole world."

Denver City Councilman Dennis Gallagher, then a member of the Colorado House of Representatives, surveyed his constituents shortly before the election. The state was promising it would spend no more than $5 million on the Games. "The survey cards came back 80 percent against, and we all knew then that the idea was in trouble," Gallagher said. "For once, the voters were not persuaded by the appeals that money would eventually trickle down to the workers.

"The promoters never asked the people how they felt, and the arrogance of some Olympic boosters turned everyone off -- they tried to imply you lacked patriotism if you were not for the Olympics." No city, state or nation ever had rejected the Games after they had been awarded. And it has never happened since.

Coloradans learned that the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley had cost California about $13.5 million -- more than 13 times original estimates. Innsbruck spent $20 million on the 1964 Games, and Grenoble, France, spent $14.7 million for facilities alone for the 1968 Games. Sapporo, Japan, was predicting it would spend more than $17 million for facilities in 1972.

Lamm admits he is disappointed that the vote didn't result in more sensible growth in Colorado. "My disappointment is that the Colorado I was afraid was going to happen with the Olympics happened without the Olympics," he said. "I'm not apologizing for what we did. But nevertheless, I'm looking back on lost opportunity. I don't like what Denver has become. I mourn Colorado. I am truly so sorry that Colorado has become what it has become when I had a different vision."

Mike Moran, a spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, said, "I don't think the likelihood of any city in America hosting the Winter Games is probably practical until after 2020".

Bullene said Lamm used the Olympics as a campaign ploy and did a disservice to Colorado. Vanderhoof, who was Colorado's lieutenant governor at the time of the vote and a member of the Colorado Olympic Committee, recalls how he and the late former Denver Mayor Bill McNichols traveled to Munich to assure worried IOC members that Colorado voters would reject the ballot measure.

"I can remember Bill McNichols and me telling them there was nothing to worry about, we were going to win it by 2-to-1," Vanderhoof said. "I sat there and told the Russians that and learned a hard lesson." Vanderhoof blames several factors for the negative vote -- a strong environmentalist movement that began in the '60s and was at its peak, (See: Denver Smog) inadequate preparations for funding the Games and growing reports of financial losses from previous Olympics.

From: Colorado only state ever to turn down Olympics, John Sanko, Denver Rocky Mountain News, October 12, 1999

See more at: Rocky Mountain News

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