TOKYO (AP) — The Norwegian ski resort of Lillehammer, site of the popular 1994 Winter Olympics, could be in the running to host again.
Gerhard Heiberg, who headed the 1994 Lillehammer Games, told The Associated Press the resort would like to bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics but said 2030 seems more likely.
Lillehammer would be a strong favorite if it enters any race.
“We are talking about whether we should be in the race for 2026 or 2030. This will be decided in some days,” Heiberg said.
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Bid cities have until March 31 to let the International Olympic Committee know of their interest. In October, the IOC will trim the field to serious contenders, and then pick the host next year.
In addition to Lillehammer, at least four others appear to be considering 2026: Calgary, Canada; Stockholm, Sweden; Sapporo, Japan; and Sion, Switzerland. Bids could also come from Italy, Austria, and Turkey.
The United States has expressed interest primarily in 2030 with Salt Lake City, Denver and Reno, Nevada, being mentioned.
Last year, the IOC named back-to-back Summer Olympic hosts — Paris and Los Angeles — in one bidding process. The Switzerland-based body has faced a dwindling pool of candidate cities, many put off by rising costs and pressure to build new venues that quickly become white elephants.
Juan Antonio Samaranch, the IOC vice president, told the AP on Friday that a double award is unlikely for the 2026 and 2030 Winter Games.
“There is no thought, no project of a double award for the Winter Games,” Samaranch said. “We don’t see any need for that. We are not planning to change the system of awarding the Olympic Games every four years. This was just a one-off.”
He then hedged, slightly. He said “extraordinary” circumstances could change that.
“But as of today we are planning to award 2026 alone,” he added.
Heiberg is well connected. He is a former IOC executive board member, and former chairman of the IOC marketing commission. He also remains an IOC honorary member.
“I understand that IOC members would like to go back to Lillehammer,” Heiberg said. “But maybe it’s too early for 2026.”
Heiberg said his preference was 2026, but he said politicians and the Norwegian Olympic Committee hadn’t had enough time to study the costs and benefits.
The Russian city of Sochi famously spent $51 billion to prepare the 2014 Winter Olympics, a price that has scared off future bidders — particularly in Europe and North America. In addition, the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro were mired in corruption and a left a trail of white elephant venues, and unpaid bills.
“We are a very democratic country and have to follow certain procedures here,” Heiberg said.
Six European cities pulled out of official or possible bids when the IOC sought candidates for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Bidders balked at costs, political unrest, or a lack of public support expressed in failed referendums.
It was left with two proposals, both from authoritarian governments: Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Beijing, China. Beijing won in a close vote.
Heiberg said many venues remain from 1994, and some were upgraded for the 2016 Winter Youth Olympics.
“There will not be very much investment here, that’s the attractive part for Norway if we organize Lillehammer,” Heiberg said.
Skeptics point out that games in the last 50 years have regularly gone over budget, and that precise costs in many have been difficult to track.
Without Lillehammer in the mix, Calgary and Stockholm are probably viewed as the two best bets for 2026. Calgary held the 1988 Winter Olympics, and Stockholm held the Summer Games in 1912.
Calgary or Stockholm would allow the IOC to return the games to traditional winter sports countries after games in Sochi, Russia, and Pyeongchang, South Korea. Beijing in 2022 is another non-traditional winter sports venue.
However, if Stockholm was picked for 2026 it could diminish the odds for Lillehammer in 2030.
“That’s another discussion we have to go through,” Heiberg said.
Sapporo should also be attractive after hosting the successful 1972 Winter Olympics. However, going to Sapporo would put another Olympics in Asia following games in Pyeongchang, Tokyo and Beijing.
Christophe Dubi, executive director of the Olympic Games, said the IOC is listening to all comers.
“Yes, we’re talking mainly 2026,” Dubi said, “but anyone that wants to speak to us and work with us on any future bid or future games — we’re happily doing so.”
Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP
His work can be found at: https://apnews.com/search/stephen%20wade