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As Sochi passed the torch on to the next site of the Winter Games -- Pyeongchang, South Korea -- thoughts turned to a future U.S. Olympic bid.

The leaders of the U.S. Olympic Committee intend to bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics if certain criteria are met. In the next two months, the USOC will likely have a short list of three candidate cities and by the end of the year will be in a position to make its decision.

There's also the possibility the USA will consider bidding for the 2026 Winter Games, though the Summer Games would be a more prestigious prize.

But given the expense, security concern and politics -- all central issues heading into Sochi -- is it worth it? Does a country such as the USA need the Olympic Games?

"It's a big, heavy burden on cities and states," USOC CEO Scott Blackmun acknowledged, given the federal government is responsible only for helping with security and transportation. "The payoff is what it does to transform sport in (a host city's) community and what it does for the nation."

Given the cuts in college sports programs, which serve as a feeder system for most Summer Olympic sports, Blackmun said an Olympics in the USA would help boost those programs.

Sochi spent a record $51 billion to stage the Games. But Sochi had to build everything from nothing, while the USA would have a far more developed infrastructure in place. At the top of the list of potential bid cities are New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, but of those, only Los Angeles has publicly expressed interest in hosting the Games.

Other cities that have expressed interest in bidding for the 2024 Games include Paris; Doha, Qatar; and Durban, South Africa. The International Olympic Committee vote on the 2024 Games will be in 2017.

The 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City were the last Games on U.S. soil. A dozen years later, in a city 6,000 miles away, the impact those Games had on young athletes reverberated. Ted Ligety, then 17, was a runner on the slalom venue in advance of the competition. He watched Bode Miller compete, then later became his teammate and a gold medalist.

In Park City, a generation of female ski jumpers was inspired, fought for Olympic inclusion and made history in Sochi, where the event was included for the first time. All three U.S. ski jumpers grew up in Park City, training on that Olympic hill.

Until recently, the USOC was considered a four-letter word in IOC circles. Both American bids to host the 2012 and 2016 Olympics (New York and Chicago) failed miserably in large part because of a revenue-sharing feud between the USOC and IOC. Two years ago the sides resolved that dispute, and under Blackmun the USOC is back in the IOC's good graces. USOC chairman Larry Probst and Blackmun have spent significant time over the last two years building support, and Probst is now an IOC member.

In recent years, the IOC has picked first-time hosts perceived as risks. Amid the political unrest of the region and the lack of infrastructure, Sochi was given the Games in part to rebuild and revitalize the former Soviet power. In the first Winter Games in Russia, the host country won the medals race: 33 total and 13 gold.

Pyeongchang is not without concern. Its province was divided between the North and South Korean sides after the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce. South Korean organizers say the Games will help promote peace on a divided peninsula.

Organizing committee chief Kim Jin-sun hopes North Korea participates. He also hopes the USA bids on a future Games.

"Salt Lake City in 2002 is when we began our first bid process," he told USA TODAY Sports through an interpreter. It took three tries before the city won the right to host the Games.

"It is time for the United States to bid," he said. "So we wish you all the best."

 

February 25, 2014

 

 
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