Why Fresno Should Host the 2026 Winter Olympics
With the 2012 Summer Olympics in London still an inspiration and fresh memory, the speculation renews over who will host future Olympiads. One trend is certain: the costs and politics involved with hosting such a mega-event have slowed the rush to host these quadrennial celebrations. Only three cities made the short list for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea; for the 2020 Summer Games, three is also the magic number: Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul. The United States will not bid to host an Olympics until 2024 or 2026. Tulsa believes it could host the 2024 Summer Olympics, and Denver, which spurned the 1976 games after agreeing to host four decades ago, wants to make a push to be the winning host city the 2026 Winter Olympics location. Politics aside, one city would stand out as the perfect Winter Olympics host 14 years from now. Fresno would be a great host city for the 2026 Winter Olympics, and must get its act together to present a bid. Why Fresno? California’s fifth largest city is currently an afterthought in the Golden State, and is often dismissed as a farming town by the Bay Area and Southern California. But despite recent struggles that stem from the foreclosure crisis and California’s water scarcity, this city of half a million could put on a brilliant winter sports show--and many of the facilities already exist or would require token renovations. True, there is no snow in Fresno, and there is a risk of the thick tule fog wreaking havoc on the region’s logistics. But recent Winter Olympics host cities have only showcased events for which an indoor arena is necessary, from Salt Lake City to Torino to Vancouver. And just 90 minutes from Fresno are spectacular ski resorts such as China Peak and Badger Pass that could host the iconic downhill skiing races and ski jump competitions. Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome would be both the proud symbol of these games and project to the world a symbol of strength, natural beauty and that American can-do spirit. Of course, Half Dome’s location in a natural park eliminates it as a location for extreme ski jumping. But that proud image would also eliminate the risk that any wayward artist would create a logo that could cause embarrassment. Half Dome’s image itself would be the best logo for these games. Of course logistics and venues are far more important than a logo for a successful Olympiad--and present a serious challenges. But the Save Mart Center and Selland Arena already exist and could host marquee events such as ice hockey and figure skating. Bulldog Stadium, of course, would be the location of the opening and closing ceremonies. Woodward Park or a downtown space celebrating Fresno’s fading but eclectic architecture could finally revitalize the city’s center. Both California State University Fresno and Fresno City College could be the proud recipients of additional athletic, logistic and business facilities that could benefit students for generations. In sum, the beauty of the San Joaquin Valley’s orchards, with the Sierra Nevada Mountains looming in the distance, would be a stunning setting for these 2026 Winter Games. Finally, an airport already exists and it can handle the the planeloads of athletes and visitors from around the world. Civic leaders should pressure land developers such as Bonadelle and Granville, which have made a mint from building endless tracts of housing but have been slow to contribute to the local community, to do their part to build an attractive Olympic Village that could offer housing to Fresno State students or help revitalize the city’s downtown. If they balk, it would hardly be an issue; there is no shortage of architects and designers who would contribute their skills and help renew Fresno with a legacy of architecture that would last long after the Olympic Torch is extinguished. The same goes for corporate sponsors--if local agriculture companies show a lack of interest, plenty of large companies will step in those shoes. Some would even want to open offices in Fresno after the Winter Games conclude--and the contentious high speed rail, if finished, would pair well with the Olympic venues to create a foundation for economic development in the San Joaquin Valley. Fresno’s leaders should take a bold step forward and bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics. With the high speed rail eventually passing through the city, those new links to the Bay Area and Los Angeles, combined with the economic revitalization the Olympics would bring, together make this an opportunity that Fresno should not pass up. And in the footsteps of the London Olympics, often criticized but still groundbreaking, sustainability and responsible land management cannot be ignored. With the continued water shortage on everyone’s mind, this event could also be the chance to diversify the region’s economy with the invitation of clean tech entrepreneurs to have a role in both ensuring a smoothly run event, green buildings with the highest possible energy performance and finally, job creation after the last puck is slapped across the Save Mart Arena’s ice. The time is now for Fresno to show what a great place this city can be and that it can finally emerge out of the state’s shadows. With the city’s diversity brimming with Armenians, Hispanics, southeast Asians and Portuguese farmers who are only a few of the ethic groups that have brought their culture and color to the region, just about everyone would feel at home during a two week extravaganza. The world is already here, and there is no reason why Fresno could pull off a stellar Winter Olympics. What do you think? Share your thoughts with Leon Kaye on Twitter. Photo of Half Dome courtesy Wikipedia; downtown Fresno photograph courtesy Leon Kaye.