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Lillehammer rules out 2026 Winter Olympic bid

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TOKYO (AP) — The man who organized the most popular Winter Olympics 24 years ago in the Norwegian ski resort of Lillehammer says it’s too soon to return in 2026.

But watch for Lillehammer in 2030.

“2026 would have been best for us, but I have to acknowledge the timing is not there,” Gerhard Heiberg told the Associated Press on Thursday.

He said organizers and politicians had too little time to work out details and financing, but called 2030 “more likely.”

“I’m a little sad,” said Heiberg, a former International Olympic Committee executive board member, and former chairman of the IOC marketing commission. “If we come forward, we will have a very strong bid.”

Lillehammer might have been the instant favorite for 2026, and its absence opens the race.

Bidders have until Saturday to let the IOC know of their interest. In October, the IOC will trim the field to serious contenders and pick the host next year.

At least five serious bids are likely to be on the table: Calgary, Canada; Stockholm, Sweden; Sapporo, Japan; Sion, Switzerland; and Milan-Torino, Italy. Interest might also come from Austria and Turkey.

The Italian Olympic Committee announced Thursday it sent a letter to the IOC stating its plans with a joint bid from Milan-Torino.

The IOC is trying to avoid what happened in bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Six European cities pulled out of official or possible bids, balking at soaring costs, political unrest, and the lack of public support expressed in rejected referendums.

That left proposals from two authoritarian governments: Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Beijing. Beijing narrowly won.

The IOC is trying an about-face, talking up austerity and the use of existing or temporary venues.

Costs have scared away bidders. So have white-elephant venues, which still litter Rio de Janeiro, the most recent Summer Olympics host. Empty venues also threaten PyeongChang.

IOC President Thomas Bach has said flatly: No more experimenting with non-traditional winter sports areas like Sochi, Russia, and PyeongChang.

“We have to think that now is the time to go back with the Winter Games to a traditional winter sports country,” Bach said a few weeks ago in Stockholm.

All four likely bidders suit that bill.

The United States seems primarily interested in 2030 with possible bids from Salt Lake City — the 2002 host — Denver, or Reno, Nevada.

Stockholm hosted the 1912 Olympics, but has never held the Winter Games. Richard Brisius, the CEO of Stockholm’s exploratory committee, told AP he does not expect a public referendum in Sweden — a death knell for many bids.

Sion must get approval in a regional referendum in June to move forward. It could also face a national referendum, two large hurdles. It plans to stage events all over the country.

Calgary city’s council will have to approve any bid. That decision is expected in late June. Calgary staged the 1988 Winter Olympics. A statement to AP from the office of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the council would need “much more information about the costs and benefits” of holding the Winter Olympics.

Sapporo held successful Winter Olympics in 1972. Its problem is geography, with the IOC likely to shift back to Europe or North America after three straight Olympics in East Asia: PyeongChang, Tokyo in 2020, and Beijing in 2022.

A Sapporo bid official said citizens would be surveyed in a questionnaire before any bid goes forward. Officials say the cost will be about $4 billion, to build facilities and operate the Games.

If Stockholm were picked, that could almost rule out neighboring Lillehammer for 2030. Back-to-back Scandinavian Games seem unlikely.

“We have time now to try to find the right concept and start discussing the economy of this,” said Heiberg, who described Lillehammer as nearly ready to go after holding the 2016 Winter Youth Olympics.

“The investment will not be too high, but we will see,” he said.

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Lillehammer considers Winter Olympic bid

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Lillehammer is considering bidding for the Winter Olympics in 2026 or 2030.

The charming Norwegian village that hosted the 1994 Winter Games and the 2016 Youth Winter Olympics published a feasibility report last month.

It could share an Olympic bid with Norwegian cities like Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim, according to Norwegian media.

There are no confirmed 2026 Winter Olympic bids yet, though Austria, Canada, Sweden and Switzerland have considered bids. The Swiss city of Sion may be formally confirmed as a bid later this month.

The 2026 Olympic host city is expected to be chosen via International Olympic Committee members vote in 2019.

Oslo withdrew its bid for the 2022 Olympics on in 2014, after Norway’s government voted not to financially back it.

No Norwegian bid has been a finalist for an Olympic host city vote since Lillehammer hosted the 1994 Winter Games.

Read more here from Norwegian media.

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Lillehammer Youth Winter Olympics open with homages to 1994

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In an homage to the Lillehammer 1994 Winter Olympics, Princess Ingrid Alexandra of Norway lit the Lillehammer Youth Winter Olympic cauldron to cap the Opening Ceremony on Friday night.

The princess’ father, Crown Prince Haakon, lit the 1994 Olympic cauldron in a very similar fashion (video here). Princess Ingrid Alexandra was born in 2004.

The Opening Ceremony, held outdoors at a ski jump (same venue as 1994) in sub-freezing temperatures, included a speech from International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.

“I’m just a little bit too old to compete in the YOG,” Bach said, urging listeners to use the hashtag #IloveYOG during the nine-day Winter Games.

The ceremony included Olympic legends, such as 2010 figure skating gold medalist Yuna Kim and eight-time Olympic cross-country champion Bjorn Daehlie carrying the Olympic flag.

Marit Bjoergen, a 10-time Olympic medalist cross-country skier, handed the Olympic flame to the princess.

NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra will air coverage of the Opening Ceremony on Saturday at 12:30 a.m. ET, plus daily coverage throughout the Winter Games. A full broadcast schedule is here.

MORE: Two years to Pyeongchang: Updates on U.S. Olympic medalists from Sochi