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U.S. cities eye possible 2026 Winter Olympic bid

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LIMA, Peru (AP) — There’s an outside shot the United States won’t have to wait 11 years to host its next Olympics.

It’s a longshot, but there’s talk in Salt Lake City, and even some in Denver, of a bid for the 2026 Winter Games, which take place two years before the Summer Olympics return to Los Angeles.

The same country hosting back-to-back Olympics hasn’t happened since before World War II, but as this round of bidding has shown, rules are made to be changed.

Five people familiar with internal discussions in both cities told The Associated Press that preliminary talks have taken place about what it would take to bring the Winter Games back to the United States for the first time since Salt Lake hosted in 2002. None of the people wanted their names used because the discussions are preliminary, and because the U.S. Olympic Committee wants to stay focused on the Los Angeles bid for the 2028 Olympics.

“Salt Lake City would enjoy hosting the Games again,” said Fraser Bullock, a key player in Salt Lake City’s 2002 Olympics. “The focus at this point is on LA, as it should be.”

On Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee will award the 2024 Summer Games to Paris and 2028 to Los Angeles.

Both were in the running for 2024. But realizing he had two top-tier candidates, IOC president Thomas Bach spearheaded a rules change to approve the awarding of the 2028 Games, as well. It helped prevent a potentially embarrassing bid process for those games. At the same time, Bach led a streamlining of the bid process for the 2026 Winter Games, in part to avoid an unwanted repeat of the 2022 bidding when the only bidders were from China and Kazakhstan.

“The sooner the Winter Olympics can come back to the U.S., the better,” said Max Cobb, the president of U.S. Biathlon. “We’ve got a fantastic set of venues in Utah that are still in use and more or less at world-class standard.”

The Salt Lake City Games were marred by a bidding scandal that resulted in several IOC members losing their positions for taking bribes.

But with help of Mitt Romney and others, the Olympics were saved, while Salt Lake and Park City have stood as prime examples of the sort of legacy that modern Olympics are supposed to leave in a region. There’s an eight-lane interstate running from the Salt Lake airport, which was upgraded for the Olympics, to Park City, which is the home of U.S. Ski and Snowboard. Park City is the host of key U.S. training centers for freestyle skiing, speedskating and cross country skiing.

Overall, the area has hosted about 75 World Cup and world-championship events in winter sports since the Olympic cauldron was extinguished more than 15 years ago.

Denver would have a steeper hill to climb. Although it’s bigger than Salt Lake City, the mountains are farther away, and more infrastructure would be needed.

“We would welcome an invitation to discuss, in depth, what it would take for Denver to become a Winter Olympic host city,” said Matthew Payne, executive director of the Denver Sports Commission.

Denver also stands as the only city to once be awarded the Olympics — the 1976 Winter Games — only to turn them back after public opinion turned against hosting the event.

The public support piece is as crucial as ever, especially in the wake of a number of cities pulling out of the running for 2022 and 2024 because of poor response from citizens and failed referendums.

One of the few potential candidates for 2026 — Innsbruck, Austria, which has hosted two previous Winter Olympics — has a referendum scheduled for Oct. 15 that has the potential to scuttle a possible bid.

Calgary and Sion, Switzerland, have also shown interest in hosting. Salt Lake City and Denver are officially on the sideline, though after Wednesday, things could heat up. The 2026 Games are next on the docket — and the only Olympics through 2028 still in search of a host.

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Reality show becomes possible road to Olympics

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The fact that Josh Williamson hadn’t stepped on ice until about a month ago hardly makes him an ideal candidate to become an Olympic bobsledder.

Then again, if Williamson completes the journey from the lacrosse fields in Florida to a bobsled track in Pyeongchang next year – or Beijing in 2022 – he will, in more than one way, be rewriting the script about how an American can become an Olympian.

He is one of eight athletes who have taken the newly opened reality-show route to earn a spot on a U.S. national team camp, which is where America’s Olympians are eventually chosen. Williamson was one of about 3,000 athletes who signed up at a 24 Hour Fitness, passed the initial tryout phase, then made the cut down to 91 athletes, who were invited to the Olympic Training Center for a made-for-TV tryout camp.

From there, eight made national team camps for rugby, track cycling, bobsled and skeleton. Those athletes’ names were announced at the end of a reality show that aired Friday night on NBCSN called “Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful.” NBCSN will re-air “Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful” at 8:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Aug. 29.

“I think the reason I’ve enjoyed it so much is because I haven’t expected any of it,” Williamson said. “I thought I’d go out, do my best, and with the work, some things have fallen in my lap.”

The 20-year-old Williamson grew up in Orlando, Florida, and traded in football pads for a lacrosse stick in junior high. He went to Mercer University in Georgia to play, but a series of injuries chased him out of the sport.

Back in Florida, he enrolled at Florida State and started working on a degree in finance. But he was a workout junkie, and never gave up on his dreams of making something more out of that. Williamson was planning on attending a bobsledding combine in August, when he heard about the U.S. Olympic Committee’s program.

Williamson signed up, and once in Colorado Springs for the training camp, it didn’t take long for U.S. bobsled coach Brian Shimer to recognize his talent.

“He’s only 20 years old, and very seldom do we get an athlete of that quality at that age,” Shimer said. “His speed, his strength, his power, the push, he’s everything we want to see in a bobsled athlete.”

Besides the eight winners, 23 athletes were invited to continue training in their respective sports.

The USOC’s director of sport performance, Alan Ashley, said this is an out-of-the-box way of identifying elite athletes – football players, runners and the like – whose skills might translate into an Olympic sport, many of which don’t get the mainstream attention as football, basketball, baseball and hockey in America.

“We’ve always believed in `talent transfer’ – high-level athletes who may not make it in one sport but could try out in another,” Ashley said. “But when you think about all the college athletes out there, this could be a stepping stone for people to think about this in a different way.”

Exhibit A could be Williamson, who participated in last month’s National Push Championships in Calgary, and has plans to work out with the U.S. team in Lake Placid, New York, next week. The Winter Olympics are less than six months away, and a spot on the team isn’t completely out of the question. The 2022 Games in Beijing might be more realistic.

Steve Langton, Lou Moreria, these are guys I follow through Instagram, and now I’m there with them,” Williamson said of two of the best push athletes in the United States. “These are kind of my heroes, and I’m sitting next to them trying to compete. I figure no matter how I did, that was enough for me.”

However far he goes, Williamson can already say he made it to the Big Time, at least in a way.

On the reality show, he was a survivor.

“It was interesting, is the best way to put it,” he said of having the tryouts shot for packaging into the two-hour documentary-style program. “It’s harder for them, and sometimes they’d have to do a bunch of takes to make it look good on TV. The difference is, in athletics, you only get one shot at it.”

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Iran-born athlete denied entry to U.S. as officials work to ensure access

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DENVER (AP) — The U.S. government has told the U.S. Olympic Committee that the travel ban put in place over the weekend shouldn’t impact athletes traveling to the United States for international events.

But one athlete has already been affected. Iranian-born Icelandic taekwondo fighter Meisam Rafiei said he was denied entry into the U.S. for this week’s U.S. Open in Las Vegas, according to Iceland newspaper Morgunbladid and reports citing his Facebook page and USA Taekwondo.

“Was on my way to US Open to compete for Iceland with my icelandic passport and was denied because I was born in Iran,” the Facebook post with a picture said.

In a statement Monday, USOC leaders said the government told them it would work to ensure athletes from all countries would have expedited access to the United States for international competitions.

A World Cup archery event is scheduled for Las Vegas on Feb. 10.

Iran, one of the seven countries listed on the ban, brought one archer, Zahra Nemati, to last year’s Olympics. The status of Iran’s archery team for the World Cup is not known.

The U.S. wrestling team travels to Iran next month for a World Cup event, and the head of the federation said plans are still in place for that trip.

Other events in the United States later this year include the Boston Marathon and Prefontaine Classic in track and field, World Cup cycling events and another World Cup archery contest. When those events take place, the impact of the ban and its legality could be different than it is currently.

“We’re in contact with (track’s international federation) and the USOC, and we’re all committed to doing whatever we can for athletes to travel however they need to for events,” said Jill Geer of USA Track and Field.

All this comes with the International Olympic Committee set to award the 2024 Olympics in September. Los Angeles is a finalist, along with Paris and Budapest, Hungary.

In a statement, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti depicted the bid as one for “a low-risk Games that gathers nations together, showcases American values, and brings benefits, not burdens, to our community.”

“I am confident that the IOC will evaluate our bid on these merits,” he said.

In announcing their latest contact with the government, USOC chairman Larry Probst and CEO Scott Blackmun issued a joint statement Monday recognizing that “the Olympic Movement was founded based upon principles of diversity and inclusion.”

“We also acknowledge the difficult task of providing for the safety and security of a nation,” the statement said. “It is our sincere hope that the executive order as implemented will appropriately recognize the values on which our nation, as well as the Olympic Movement, were founded.”

MORE: U.S. wrestlers set to head to Iran