45 years ago on February 4th 1976, the XII Winter Olympics opened in Innsbruck, Austria, but the Tyrolean city wasn’t the first choice to host the ‘76 Winter Games.
In 1970 the selection to host the Games was between four potential host cities with Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada; Tampere, Finland; Sion, Switzerland; and Denver, Colorado, USA competing for the bid. Vancouver was knocked out in the first round, Tampere in the second, and in the final round the International Olympic Committee (IOC) chose Denver over Sion for the bid
The organizers were originally hailed as heroes and the games were expected to be part of both Colorado’s Centennial and the American Bicentennial celebrations of 1976. However, public support quickly started to wane as concerns were raised about the economic and environmental impact the games would have on the city. Reports started to come out about the overall incompetence and mismanagement within the Denver Olympic Organizing Committee (DOOC) further eroding support. By 1972, a grassroots anti-Olympic movement was able to force a statewide vote on a referendum to amend the state’s constitution in regards to public funding of the games. A “Yes” vote would basically cut off all taxpayers money going to the games. On November 7th 1972, after a bitter campaign, Colorado voters overwhelmingly voted for the referendum, around 60-40 to Yes, effectively killing the 1976 Denver Winter Olympic Games. On November 15th 1972 the DOOC officially withdrew from hosting
The withdrawal of Denver sent the IOC into a scurry looking for a new host city. Officials in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA stepped up to host but, fresh off of Denver’s withdrawal, IOC officials were leery about going with another American city. The IOC offered the 1976 bid to original runners-up Vancouver and Sion, but both cities, citing the fallout in Denver, declined. The IOC finally settled on Innsbruck, Austria; which has hosted the Winter Olympics 12 years earlier in 1964
The debacle of the Denver games marked the beginning of the era of cities second-guessing the “privilege” of hosting the games