The Olympics that Never Happened
Denver '76 and the Politics of Growth
303 Pages, 19 b&w photos
Sales Date: February 14, 2023
A look back at how powerful politicians, business leaders, and a diverse cast of activists used a thwarted Olympics to shape the state of Colorado and the city of Denver.
If you don’t recall the 1976 Denver Olympic Games, it’s because they never happened. The Mile-High City won the right to host the winter games and then was forced by Colorado citizens to back away from its successful Olympic bid through a statewide ballot initiative. Adam Berg details the powerful Colorado regime that gained the games for Denver and the grassroots activism that brought down its Olympic dreams, and he explores the legacy of this milestone moment for the games and politics in the United States.
The ink was hardly dry on Denver’s host agreement when Mexican American and African American urbanites, white middle-class environmentalists, and fiscally concerned local politicians realized opposition to the Olympics provided them new political openings. The Olympics quickly became a platform for taking stands on a range of issues, from conservation to urban livability to the very idea of growth, which for decades had been unquestioned in Colorado. The Olympics That Never Happened argues that hostility to the Olympics galvanized and empowered diverse citizens in a major US city, with long-term ramifications for Colorado and political activism elsewhere. The Olympics themselves were changed forever, compelling organizers to take seriously competing interests from subgroups within their communities.
This book deftly excavates a singular moment in Olympic history when, after the International Olympic Committee allocated the games to Denver, locals rose up and just said no. Adam Berg’s engaging narrative spotlights how wealthy businesspeople attempted to use the Olympics as a trampoline for their own pro-growth interests and how concerned denizens forged a spirited, strategic coalition to stop them. Berg meticulously demonstrates how the private interests that drove the Olympic bid process not only pilfered the public purse but also issued fantastical fabrications about the glories the games would bring. But Coloradans were not fooled. In a moment when fewer and fewer cities are game to host the Olympic Games, this book is timely and essential reading.
— Jules Boykoff, Pacific University, author of Power Games: A Political History of the OlympicsThe Olympics That Never Happened highlights the disingenuousness surrounding mega–sport events. In the leadup to the 1976 Denver Winter Games, pro-Olympic supporters and anti-Olympic advocates alike used the event to advance different ideas about the future of Colorado. Adam Berg deftly illustrates the false promises of growth used to deliver the games, as well as the over-aggrandized claims for social justice deployed to halt them. Although those opposed to the Olympics forced their removal from Denver, Berg shows that the campaign was the zenith, not the genesis, of resistance to mega–sporting events. The Olympics may not have happened in Denver, but the power remained in the hands of state and Olympic power brokers.
— Lindsay Parks Pieper, University of Lynchburg, author of Sex Testing: Gender Policing in Women’s SportsAdam Berg offers a highly engaging and deeply thoughtful telling of Colorado voters' rejection of the 1976 Winter Olympic Games. Tracing the confluence of middle-class environmentalism, state taxpayers' revolts, and the civil rights movement, he explores how opposition to Denver’s Olympic dreams merged the powerful social and economic forces redefining the state. It is a must read for those concerned about the all too often hollow promises of the Olympic Games, environmental justice, and the future of urban growth.
— Michael W. Childers, Colorado State University, author of Colorado Powder Keg: Ski Resorts and the Environmental Movement
- Introduction: The Game behind the Games
- Part I. The Bidders
- Chapter 1. The Origins of Olympic Dreams
- Chapter 2. Growth Crusaders
- Chapter 3. Faking an Olympic City
- Chapter 4. A Mass Soft Sell
- Part II. The Opponents
- Chapter 5. Post–Civil Rights Advocacy in the City
- Chapter 6. Middle-Class Environmentalism in the Foothills
- Chapter 7. A Liberal Tax Revolt and the Public Relations Battle
- Chapter 8. Direct Democracy for Middle America
- Part III. The Fate and Legacy of Denver '76
- Chapter 9. The DOC’S Credibility and the Rhetoric of Olympism
- Chapter 10. The Event Coalition and the Rights of Citizenship
- Chapter 11. The Momentum of the Moment
- Epilogue: The Games Go On