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Seven countries interested in hosting 2026 Winter Olympics

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Seven countries among three continents submitted interest in bidding for the 2026 Winter Olympics before the International Olympic Committee’s deadline.

The current dialogue phase runs to October, when the IOC will choose which cities to invite to its candidate phase running up to a September 2019 IOC members vote for the host.

Bids could hinge on public votes, which led to the demise of recent Summer and Winter Games bids.

The seven potential bids:

Austria (Graz)
Austria ranks fourth in Winter Olympic medals behind Norway, the U.S. and Germany and hosted in Innsbruck in 1964 and 1976. Graz is the nation’s second-largest city after Vienna. It shares a province with Schladming, host of the 1982 and 2013 World Alpine Skiing Championships. A potential venue plan would include figure skating, short track speed skating, hockey and curling in Graz, Alpine skiing in Schladming, more hockey games in Vienna, Linz or Klagenfurt and speed skating and sliding sports in Germany, up to 200 miles from Graz. A planned Innsbruck bid for the 2026 Winter Games was dropped in October after defeat in a public vote. Austria lost in Olympic bidding for 2002 (Graz), 2006 (Klagenfurt), 2010 (Salzburg) and 2014 (Salzburg).

Canada (Calgary)
Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Games that included the first Jamaican bobsled team and the Battle of the Brians and the Battle of the Carmens in figure skating. If this bid happens, it could see Nordic combined and ski jumping at the Vancouver 2010 venue in Whistler, B.C., more than 500 miles west of Calgary. If Calgary gets the 2026 Winter Games, it could hurt a potential 2030 U.S. bid from Denver, Reno-Tahoe or Salt Lake City since the IOC has never awarded back-to-back Summer or Winter Games to North America (though a Summer Games in North America has been followed by a Winter Games in North America in 1976/1980 and 1984/1988.) Calgary’s mayor said in PyeongChang that a “real decision” on being “serious” about bidding must be made by the summer, according to Sportsnet. Toronto dropped a 2024 Summer Olympic bid. Quebec City showed 2026 bid interest last year before dropping out as well.

Italy (Cortina d’Ampezzo/Milan/Torino)
Italy’s initial declaration last week mentioned only Milan and Torino, but the Cortina mayor later wanted in, too. The three sites are separated by about 300 miles across northern Italy. Torino hosted the Winter Games in 2006, with one Winter Olympics in Europe since then (Sochi 2014, though Russia is transcontinental). Cortina was Italy’s other Winter Games host in 1956. The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) said it will present a feasibility study on its bid once the new Italian government forms for “a comprehensive evaluation of the entire project.” Italy’s general election on March 4 resulted in no clear majority.

Japan (Sapporo)
Sapporo, which has been talked about as a potential 2026 bid city for more than three years, hosted the first Winter Games in Asia in 1972 as well as the Asian Winter Games in 1986, 1990 and 2017. Sapporo is hoping for a third straight Winter Olympics in East Asia after PyeongChang 2018 and Beijing 2022. Tokyo is also hosting the 2020 Summer Games. IOC president Thomas Bach has said he hopes the Winter Olympics can return to a more traditional location in 2026, which USOC chairman Larry Probst called “code for Europe or North America.” Sapporo’s sliding sports track from 1972 is gone. Bobsled, luge and skeleton could be held at the 1998 Olympic venue in Nagano, which is 600 miles south of Sapporo and on a different island.

Sweden (Stockholm)
The Swedish capital dropped a bid for the 2022 Olympics in 2015 due to lack of political and financial support. The bid was revived for 2026, declared dead by Swedish politicians last April, but kept alive by the Swedish Olympic Committee. As with the 2022 bid, Alpine events are slated for Åre, about 350 miles north. Sliding events could be in Latvia, 300 miles across the Baltic Sea. Sweden hosted one Olympics — the Summer Games in Stockholm in 1912 — plus equestrian events in Stockholm during the 1956 Melbourne Games. It also failed in bids for six straight Winter Olympics — 1984 (Göteborg), 1988 (Falun), 1992 (Falun), 1994 (Östersund), 1998 (Östersund) and 2002 (Östersund).

Switzerland (Sion)
The first city to officially declare 2026 candidacy nearly a year ago. Sion, with a population listed around 30,000, could be the smallest Olympic host city since Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994. The initial Sion framework included events in Bern, Lausanne and St. Moritz. Switzerland hosted the Olympics twice, both Winter Games in St. Moritz (1928 and 1948). Sion previously was a finalist to host the 1976, 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics, finishing runner-up in voting every time. A possible bid from St. Moritz and Davos was rejected by voters in February 2017. A Sion bid could hinge on a public vote set for June 10.

Turkey (Erzurum)
Turkey has never bid for a Winter Olympics nor hosted a Summer or Winter Games. Istanbul bid for the Summer Olympics in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2020, coming as close as runner-up to Tokyo for 2020. If successful, Turkey could become the third nation to host a Winter Olympics with no prior Winter Olympic medals. The others were Yugoslavia in 1984 and France at the first Winter Games in 1924. Turkey’s best-ever Winter Olympic finish was 15th (out of 15 teams) in the 1998 men’s cross-country skiing relay, according to the OlyMADMen. Erzurum is an Eastern provincial capital with about 400,000 people.

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Turkey joins 2026 Winter Olympic bidders

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Turkey is the latest nation to bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics, according to Turkish media.

Erzurum is the reported bid city, a provincial capital in Eastern Turkey with about 400,000 people. The Turkish Olympic Committee has not responded to a request for confirmation.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last April the country was considering a bid including Erzurum.

Turkey has never bid for a Winter Olympics nor hosted a Summer or Winter Games. Istanbul bid for the Summer Olympics in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2020, coming as close as runner-up to Tokyo for 2020.

If successful, Turkey could become the third nation to host a Winter Olympics with no prior Winter Olympic medals. The others were Yugoslavia in 1984 and France at the first Winter Games in 1924.

Turkey’s best-ever Winter Olympic finish was 15th (out of 15 teams) in the 1998 men’s cross-country skiing relay, according to the OlyMADMen.

Italy declared a joint Milan-Torino bid earlier this week ahead of this weekend’s deadline.

The IOC said last month that four other cities entered the initial dialogue phase for potential 2026 Olympic bids: Calgary, Stockholm, Sion, Switzerland and Sapporo, Japan.

An Austrian bid has also been reported but not formally announced by the IOC.

Bids could hinge on public votes, which led to the demise of recent Summer and Winter Games bids.

IOC president Thomas Bach has said he hopes the Winter Olympics can return to a more traditional location after PyeongChang 2018 and Beijing 2022, which USOC chairman Larry Probst called “code for Europe or North America.”

The U.S. prefers to bid for the 2030 Olympics — with one of Salt Lake City, Denver and Reno-Tahoe — but would consider bidding earlier if the 2026 and 2030 Olympics will be awarded together like the 2024 and 2028 Games were to Paris and Los Angeles last year. A double vote appears unlikely at this point.

The 2026 Olympic host city is set to be chosen via IOC members vote in September 2019 in Milan.

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‘Pocket Hercules,’ Olympic weightlifting legend, dies at 50

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Naim Suleymanoglu, Turkey’s triple Olympic champion weightlifter nicknamed “Pocket Hercules,” died at age 50 on Saturday.

Suleymanoglu was hospitalized with liver failure on Sept. 28 in Istanbul. He underwent a liver transplant Oct. 6, then remained in intensive care due to a brain hemorrhage and further Nov. 11 surgery, according to Turkey’s Anadolu news agency.

The 5-foot, 136-pound Suleymanoglu became the first weightlifter to win three Olympic titles, doing so in 1988, 1992 and 1996.

He could clean and jerk three times his body weight, helping gain his famous nickname.

Suleymanoglu was born Naim Suleimanov in a Bulgarian mountain village. He wanted to start weightlifting at age 9, when he was 3-foot-9 and 55 pounds.

He was a world medalist by age 16 and a world champion by 18 but missed the 1984 Olympics in between due to Bulgaria joining the Soviet-led boycott.

He defected from Bulgaria in 1986 after charges of human rights violations, even murders, by Bulgarian authorities against the country’s ethnic Turks. Bulgaria was attempting to change Turkish names to Slavic ones in an assimilation process.

All this happened during Suleymanoglu’s eight-year winning streak in major competition, starting as a Bulgarian competitor and finishing representing Turkey.

He decided to defect after seeing that his name would be changed. Suleymanoglu kept his plan a secret for a year before leaving the Bulgarian team at a competition in Australia in December 1986. He then changed his name to Naim Suleymanoglu, which means Naim, son of Suleyman, in Turkish.

Five months before the 1988 Olympics, Turkey’s weightlifting president took $1 million in a suitcase to a Bulgarian hotel in order to obtain the unconditional release of Suleymanoglu to compete for Turkey at the Seoul Games.

Under rules at the time, an athlete had to sit out one year before competing for a new country at the Olympics. Plus, Bulgaria had to agree to Suleymanoglu’s change of athletic citizenship. If not, Suleymanoglu would have had to wait three years before competing for Turkey.

Turkish journalists said that three men counted the money three times, a 6 1/2-hour undertaking.

Suleymanoglu was cleared to compete for Turkey and dominated the Olympic featherweight division in 1988 (broke six world records) and 1992 (won by 33 pounds).

Suleymanoglu’s featherweight duel with Greek Valerios Leonidis at the 1996 Atlanta Games was called “the greatest weightlifting competition in history” by the public address announcer.

They traded world records in the clean and jerk finale. Leonidis finally failed at 419 pounds in an attempt to dethrone Suleymanoglu. Pocket Hercules retired with a world record total weight lifted for the division (738 pounds between the snatch and clean and jerk).

Suleymanoglu then ran for Turkish parliament but only received 1,000 votes.

Suleymanoglu came out of retirement ahead of the 2000 Sydney Games. At 33, he hoped to join Carl LewisAl Oerter and Paul Elvstrom as the only athletes to win four golds in an individual event.

He failed at all three attempts in the snatch, eliminating him from the competition.

The Turkish government reportedly rewarded Suleymanoglu with a new house every time he won a world title (seven world titles, plus the three Olympic golds). He also owned two gas stations.

NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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