The forever games

With fewer cities stepping up to welcome the games, the IOC is keeping a handful of previous hosts on heavy rotation. And it might mean more Olympics are on LA's horizon

Fireworks exploding over Olympic venues at SoFi Stadium and the Coliseum in a rendering showing LA during the Olympics
If the third time's the charm, as this bid rendering depicts, will LA's Olympic-hosting become a regular occurrence?

If you live in LA, Salt Lake City's 2034 Winter Olympics bid will sound very familiar. We're pros at doing this! All the venues are in place! Cheap games are our speciality! Did we mention no one else is in the running! This week, Salt Lake City even one-upped penny-pinching LA by releasing an astonishingly lowball budget estimate: it will only cost $4 billion to host the games in 2034, the organizing committee claims, far less than the $7 billion LA has estimated for 2028. Dubious math aside, this campaign has worked: the IOC is now officially recommending Salt Lake City's 2034 bid.

Salt Lake City, you may remember, hosted once before in 2002 — not so very long ago. When 2034 rolls around, this means the Olympics will be back in a U.S. city for a second time just a few short years after returning to a U.S. city for a third time. It's indicative of a bigger trend: with fewer cities stepping up to welcome the games, the IOC is keeping a handful of previous hosts on heavy rotation. And it might mean more Olympics are on LA's horizon.

I've been thinking a lot about LA and "forever games" after my conversation with Olympic scholar Jules Boykoff last weekend. As I said Saturday, Boykoff's book What Are the Olympics For? is filled with LA-specific details, making it an essential primer for any Angeleno wondering exactly what is about to befall our city. As Boykoff explains, 2028 is a make-or-break moment for the games on a global scale and the fate of the contemporary Olympics is, in many ways, going to be determined by how LA fares. And with LA inducted into the exclusive Three-Timer's Club, we as a city edge closer to one possible scenario that Boykoff writes about:

Every two years, as the Olympics approach and chronic problems linked to the Games emerge in the public sphere, two common solutions are offered:
1) Permanently site the Olympics in a single location;
2) Rotate hosting duties for both the summer and winter Olympics among a small number of cities that have previously staged the Games.
Setting aside the fact that the IOC has shown zero interest in either proposal, as neither would quench its thirst for new markets, it's not clear that there would be a lot of takers on the host side.

While no one has yet volunteered for the permahost gig, it does seem like LA and SLC in particular are branding themselves as veteran hosts that can handle whatever the IOC throws their way. In that sense, Salt Lake City is truly ready for anything. The 2002 games were preceded by an epic bribery scandal — we're talking lavish ski vacations, Utah Jazz suites, and even school tuitions — that resulted in federal prosecutions of bid members and the dismissal of 10 IOC members. Wholesome Mitt Romney was brought in to save the games. The entire bidding process was overhauled. And as Olympic historian David Wallechinsky told the Salt Lake Tribune, the chance to shine a light on these supposed reforms might have been a reason the IOC favored Salt Lake City's bid. "It's not like they invented the corruption," he said. "They just got caught."

The bigger problem the IOC has to contend with as far as winter hosts is that there are a dwindling number of regions that can reliably produce the climatological conditions necessary to stage events in snow and ice. A 2022 study examining warming trends in previous host cities concluded that only one — Sapporo — would be able to hold the Winter Olympics by the end of the century. The IOC's own assessment showed only 10 previous winter hosts would remain viable through 2040, and Salt Lake City was one of them. And as I wrote about last month, the Summer Olympics are becoming too dangerous to actually hold in summer. If the summer games need to move to spring or fall (or the southern hemisphere), and the winter games can only happen in a handful of locations, that quickly whittles down the IOC's options.

The "we got this" attitude of LA's perpetual bidding machine certainly seems to be hinting at a more frequent Olympics-hosting future. The idea has been floated before. And LA in general is being heavily marketed as The Place Where Sports Keep Coming Back™. The Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission loves to boast about how many times these institutions return to LA, and not just the Olympics: the 2026 NBA All-Star game is heading here for a record-breaking seventh time and the 2027 Super Bowl is our second in 10 years. (Here's a timeline lest you need more proof that we are living in a multiple-megaevent-hosting era.) But while Steve Balmer-funded arenas may keep appearing out of thin air, upgrades always need to be made to our existing venues. While it's true that LA didn't pay to construct any stadiums for 2028, the Coliseum, which was built to host the 1932 games, underwent a major $315 million renovation that started just after LA won the bid in 2017. USC paid that time — but who will write the check for the next much-needed makeover?

Both the 2030 and 2034 Winter Olympics hosts have not yet been officially announced, and like in 2017, when Paris and LA were simultaneously awarded back-to-back summer games, there will once again be a double award announcement, expected to be made next month. For 2030 the IOC is set to award the games to a French Alps bid that reuses some previous Olympic venues and adds others throughout the Provence region. There's already environmental opposition to this plan, and fiscal concerns are mounting with the 2024 games estimated to cost French taxpayers up to $5 billion. A closer look at the bid even reveals overlapping sites like Nice, which is a key location for 2030 winter events and also hosting 2024 summer events. For certain parts of France, the Olympics won't end in August.

With Salt Lake City now a shoe-in for 2034, it certainly feels like rotating hosting duties have been set in motion. As the IOC kicks off the Summer Olympics in France (2024) which will conclude with a handoff to the U.S. (2028), they'll be announcing the next round of Winter Olympics in France (2030) which will also conclude with a handoff to the U.S. (2034). Perhaps the forever games are already here. 🔥

📚 Thanks again to the Hollywood branch of the LA Public Library and their amazing librarians for making our Saturday event such a success. If you want to find out about the next Torched event first, upgrade your subscription!

🚠 It's not directly related to the Olympics but I found it interesting that Salt Lake City also has its own proposed gondola project — an 8-mile route up Little Cottonwood Canyon that would be the longest gondola in the world — and like LA, there is already a corresponding no gondola campaign

🚌 Hey, maybe having two U.S. games in such close succession could mean LA and SLC could share resources — like, say, 2,700 electric buses?

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Torched.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.