ANCHORAGE, Alaska - A committee on Thursday began delving into the gritty details of whether Alaska's largest city should bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.
The 26 members, including past and present Olympians from Alaska, will look at venues, events, marketing and public relations and finances over the next few months. The committee, which first met in June, will report back to Mayor Dan Sullivan by March, which is when the next Winter Olympics are scheduled in Sochi, Russia.
Anchorage has bid twice before for the games, which went to Albertville, France, in 1992 and to Lillehammer, Norway, two years later. Anchorage came in third for the 1994 games.
Rick Nerland, an organizing committee official for those attempts and now an emeritus committee member, spoke of the lessons learned from the earlier bids before the committee began its work.
"The journey is just as important as the destination," he said. "Taking part, and getting in a position to compete at the level that you compete at for an Olympic bid makes you a better city, it makes your community a better place to be."
But just as important, he said, is realizing that the entire selection process - from whether the United States Olympics Committee decides to back your city for the games, whether they will back any American bid and then competing before the International Olympics Committee - is a global political process.
The decision on the bigger and more lucrative 2024 Summer Olympics could seal Alaska's fate. The USOC has said it may not consider both a summer 2024 bid from the U.S. and a 2026 winter bid, and Nerland agreed that it's very unlikely that the same country would win bids for back-to-back summer and winter games. The committee will decide in late 2014 whether to field a candidate for the 2024 summer games. A decision on the 2026 games could come in 2017.
But by starting work now, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan said they will be much better positioned to bid the games, if that's the ultimate decision.
"If the USOC thought we were capable 30 years ago of doing this, we've got to be much more capable now," Sullivan said. "We're stronger, we're a bigger, more capable city, and we have a more diverse economy than we had back then. All the elements just seem to fit."
Anchorage's previous bids did not rely on any public funding, and that's Sullivan's goal this time, too.
Nerland said private donations and a check-off fund where Alaskans could divert $5 or $10 from their annual payment from the state's oil wealth fund helped the committee earn about $5 million in the 1980s to help pay for things like engineering studies and visits from international organizations in preparation of the bids. That would be about $11 million today.
Nerland said an Olympic consultant visited Anchorage in 2006 and said the city had all the basics in place to host a Winter Olympics: international airport, diverse accommodations, a major university for athletes' housing that can be used by students later, places where a sports medicine program can be developed and venues within an hour's drive.
Nerland noted the Alyeska Ski Resort is 40 minutes south and other sports could be held in the Eagle River area, about 15 minutes north of Anchorage.
"We have no major defect in our offering," Nerland said. "It's just a matter of planning, organizing and executing."
City officials said other American cities considering bids are Salt Lake City, which hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics; Bozeman, Mont., and the Reno, Nev./Lake Tahoe area. International cities that have expressed interest for 2026 include Quebec City, Canada, and Krakow, Poland.
Committee member Matt Larkin, owner of Dittman Research, said the company found 75 percent of Anchorage residents were in favor of hosting games in the 1990s. No polling has done for this attempt, but a 2006 poll found Alaska to be a very favorable destination for those living in the Lower 48. He expects that has only grown with the numerous reality TV shows set in Alaska, drawing both national and international interest.
Larkin said compared to the other places Anchorage is up against, he believes the state has a competitive offer.
"I think the world would love to come to Alaska," he said.