In the early 1960s, Governor John A. Love and other business leaders worked to bring the 1976 Winter Olympics to Colorado. Despite winning the bid from the International Olympic Committee in 1970, the voters of Colorado decided not to fund the winter games, causing the event to be moved to Innsbruck, Austria. The rejection of the 1976 Olympic Games illustrates the growing power of environmental groups that shook up Colorado’s political establishment in the 1960s and 1970s.
In the 1960s ski industry leaders approached Governor Love about bringing the Olympics to Colorado. The governor agreed to pursue an Olympic bid on the assumption that the games would bolster the state’s economy by drawing attention to Colorado’s burgeoning tourist industry. Love formed the Colorado Olympic Committee, which was composed of local business leaders and worked in secret, meeting behind closed doors. The press was allowed almost no access. This committee later evolved into the Denver Olympic Committee (DOC) after it successfully persuaded the federal government to support Colorado’s bid for the 1976 Winter Olympics.
The DOC ran into opposition early on when it arrived in the small mountain town of Indian Hills. Local residents found themselves bewildered and frightened as committee members arrived unannounced and began to survey the land. The committee also encountered resistance when it visited Evergreen. Residents there voiced similar concerns, namely, that the committee needed to be more transparent and address concerns about potential environmental damage resulting from construction. To that end, residents of the town turned to the environmental group Mountain Area Planning Council (MAPC). The council agreed to intercede with the DOC on behalf of the residents of Evergreen and Indian Hills but had little success. The committee trivialized the communities’ anxiety about potential environmental impact. Frustrated with a lack of progress, Indian Hills formally organized the Plan Our Mountain Environment (POME) group in opposition to hosting the Olympics in the town.
Citizens for Colorado’s Future
The most prominent opposition group to the Olympic Games, Citizens for Colorado’s Future (CCF), had modest beginnings. The CCF began as a small group of researchers based out of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who intended to study the potential impact of hosting the games. The findings of CCF’s were that hosting the games would be detrimental to many of the proposed locations. An analysis of Copper Mountain, for example, warned that the planned construction could lead to soil erosion, loss of aesthetic appeal, and significant forest depletion.
Colorado politicians took note of CCF’s findings. Colorado representatives Richard Lamm and Bob Jackson introduced a bill that would block state funding for the 1976 Olympics, but the legislation died in committee. Although these statesmen were unable to effect an immediate change, their attention to the Olympics issue illustrates the changing political atmosphere of Colorado in 1971. That state representatives, however few, tried to block the Olympics suggests an elevated level of importance ascribed to questions of growth and the environment. With Lamm’s assistance, the CCF formally organized into a potent political activist group. Coloradans opposed the Olympics on a variety of grounds, ranging from environmental to economic and even to concerns over the lack of minority participation in the DOC. The CCF was able to unite these elements into a loose coalition, even as the diversity of its members simultaneously threatened the fragile alliance.
Both the CCF and Lamm fought to keep the Olympic issue in the public eye. Their determination attracted the support of major environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and Zero Population Growth. When representative Lamm nearly pushed a bill through the legislature that would have terminated state funding for the games, the CCF was emboldened to put the issue to popular vote.
Olympic opponents managed to collect more than 77,000 voter signatures to place the question of state and city funding for the games on the November 1972 ballot. While the DOC was concerned by the mounting political pressure, it remained confident that federal and private funding would suffice in the unlikely event that the initiative passed. This confidence was shattered when the US Senate Interior Committee declared that federal funding would be contingent on the outcome of the November ballot. The DOC scrambled to organize a political response. At the behest of the committee, major news outlets such as the Denver Post wrote pro-Olympic articles stressing the economic benefits of hosting the games. Some Coloradans, however, were already beginning to doubt the financial boons the DOC promised. Not only did costs frequently run over budget, but the committee had already spent more than $1 million and had nothing to show for it. Furthermore, the DOC failed to address environmental concerns raised by opposition groups. On November 7, 1972, Coloradans overwhelmingly voted against funding the games.
Resistance to hosting the 1976 Winter Olympics took place during the rise of the modern environmentalist movement. These concerns combined with the stagnant economy of the 1970s to produce a diverse opposition. One local newspaper criticized the proposed bobsled run by calling it a “mile-long, refrigerated concrete snake which, as there are only 100 competitors in the world, has very limited afteruse” and which would leave “permanent scars.” Neither environmentalism nor economic issues probably would have been enough alone to stop the games. Together, however, they provided potent opposition.
The casualties of the anti-Olympic movement extended beyond the scope of the games. Entrenched politicians such as US representative Gordon Allot and US senator Wayne Aspinall lost their seats, and the pro-development Denver Water Board found itself under attack by environmental groups. The environmental movement produced winners as well. Lamm ousted former Governor Love in 1975 by running on a pro-environment, anti-Olympic platform. Colorado’s decision to not fund the games also had international repercussions. Innsbruck, Austria, was hastily chosen as a replacement for Colorado, as it still possessed the infrastructure from the previous winter games. Colorado became the first and only case in which a city refused to host the Olympics after winning an official International Olympic Committee bid.