Most Coloradans don’t need to be reminded of the unique and distinct title that their state holds regarding the Olympic Games. Although Denver was chosen as the host city for the 1976 Winter Games, the majority of Colorado voters in Colorado effectively chased the games away. Never before had the Olympics been relocated due to a host city’s rejection, and it hasn’t happened since.
But let’s not travel down that road again. Instead, let’s look at some of the plans and ideas that were in place for the ’76 games. How did the planners expect to pull this off? Which sites and structures were to be used? What venues needed to be constructed? What other logistics had to be considered? Our manuscript collection #1437, the papers of the Denver Olympic Organizing Committee, provides many clues to the vision that never came to be.
The Denver Olympic Organizing Committee had some key decisions firmly in place before the 1976 Winter Games were relocated. The opening and closing ceremonies were to be held at Mile High Stadium. Olympic Village would be organized on the University of Denver’s campus, making use of their contemporary Centennial Halls and Centennial Towers dormitories. Through slight modifications, figure skating and ice hockey events were slated for the Denver Coliseum, with hockey also being played at the old University of Denver Arena.
However, the committee had to seek outside Denver city limits to develop facilities for other events. Initially, all alpine skiing events were to be held between the already existing Loveland Basin and Mount Sniktau. At the time, plans existed to develop Mount Sniktau into a major ski area. Ski jumping, cross-country skiing, biathlon, bobsled, and luge events were all slated to be held on Denver Mountain Parks land in Jefferson County.
As with any major event, initial plans sometimes changed. According to a final report by the Denver Olympic Organizing Committee on December 29, 1972, most event sites had been shifted elsewhere from the preliminary locations. Vail/Beaver Creek eventually became the chosen destination for alpine skiing events, while ski-jumping, cross-country skiing, and the biathlon were headed to Steamboat Springs. DU remained the choice for the Olympic Village, but the Committee had backup plans to develop the vacant Clayton Trust land (near present-day Park Hill Golf Club) if needed.
One event that required a special venue to be built is particularly interesting, as it was also involved in plans by the Denver Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1998 Winter Games. Speed skating required a 400-meter rink that neither the Coliseum nor DU Arena could accommodate. An outdoor speed-skating facility that could hold 5,000 spectators was originally planned to be constructed immediately west of Denver South High School’s football stadium. And although a bid for the 1998 Games never came to fruition, an interesting design was chosen to present to the International Olympic Committee. An arena dubbed the “Colorado Olympic Oval” was designed to be situated along the south side of Buchtel Boulevard on DU’s campus. This venue would have contained the only indoor speed skating facility in the country, as well as an Olympic-sized ice hockey rink. Both features would be housed under one roof, occupying the same open space, with the speed skating oval elevated above the ice rink as a mezzanine or second level.
Although neither the 1976 nor 1998 Denver Winter Games ever took place, it’s fun to imagine the plans and possibilities. The U.S. Olympic Committee has already stated that it will not bid on the 2022 Winter Games, but there is always hope beyond that.
Kasey Brooks Library Technician November 2013
Photo 1: Sapporo Closing Ceremonies, "We Meet Again In Denver." History Colorado MSS #1437, FF 5.
Photo 2: Colorado Olympic Oval exterior rendering, J.V. Gemsler. History Colorado MSS #1437, FF 41.
Photo 3: Mount Sniktau proposals, Denver, Colorado, USA, 1976, XII Olympic Winter Games, p.7. History Colorado MSS #1437, Box 2.
Photo 4: Colorado Olympic Oval interior rendering, DSW Denver Colorado. History Colorado MSS #1437, FF 41.
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