Memorabilia recalls lost Olympics |

Memorabilia recalls lost Olympics

Joel Stonington
John Callahan's hat and pins from Colorado's unsuccessful 1976 Winter Olympics bid. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

It had never happened before, and it hasn’t happened since: In 1972, Colorado stunned the world and voted against having the Olympics. It wasn’t even a close vote. Nearly 60 percent of the state voted against spending tax dollars on the facilities and infrastructure to host the 1976 Winter Olympics. The “no” vote came despite the fact that the International Olympic Committee had already awarded the games to Colorado. “It was a different time for Aspen,” said longtime resident John Callahan. “So many people did not want the Olympics here. They just didn’t think it was the place to have it. People wanted to ski and get away from whatever.”

Rejection was the last thing that civic and political leaders expected in late 1969, when a small group of Denver business and political leaders returned from a meeting with the International Olympic Committee to a brass band and motorcade through downtown. Colorado, they announced, had been awarded the Olympics.The quest to host the games here started 15 years earlier, in 1954, when Colorado Springs and Aspen made an effort to host the 1960 games. After that failed first effort, the boosters in Denver continued working to get the games, without really considering whether state residents entirely welcomed their efforts. Colorado may not have any memories of the 1976 Winter Olympics, but there is still a smattering of memorabilia from the games that never happened. Callahan, for instance, is a proud owner of one hat and two pins announcing Colorado as the site of the 1976 Olympics.Soon after it became was clear the Olympics weren’t coming to Colorado, Callahan bought up all of the pins left at Aspen Sports. He has since given most of them away, holding on only to the hat and the two pins. “They’re kind of collectors items,” he said. “I’ll pass them on to my kids someday.” The International Olympic Committee was clear from the start: If Colorado wouldn’t support the games with tax dollars then they would be held elsewhere. After the 1972 vote, Innsbruck, Austria, site of the 1964 Winter Olympics, was selected as a replacement venue.

For some Coloradans, it was the idea of swarms of people, for others it was environmental damage the hordes would cause, and for others, it was just too much of a spectacle. “I remember people saying, ‘Oh God, that’ll jam the town up.'” He said. “We didn’t think it was a good idea to have one of the venues up here.”The shift in opinion since then is obvious – look no further then Aspen’s excitement about the 60,000 visitors last month for the ESPN Winter X Games. Few residents are willing to criticize the X Games; even fewer are willing to state on the record that Aspen should get rid of them.

“There has been a change in the mentality about the town,” Callahan said. “It was a very small town then.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is