Winter Olympics for Anchorage Is an Advertising Man’s Dream

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

On Feb. 7, 1984, advertising executive Rick Mystrom was having lunch in downtown Anchorage with two executives, Chris Von Hoff and Steve Busch, from the Alyeska ski resort, 42 miles south of Anchorage. The purpose of the get-together was to discuss possible 1984 advertising projects for the ski resort.

But they wound up talking about a much bigger project.

The Winter Olympics.

“I can’t recall who actually brought the subject up,” Mystrom said recently. “I do remember thinking Von Hoff seemed to know a little about the Olympics. I remember him saying he’d been to the Munich Summer Games in ’72 and to the Grenoble Winter Games in ’68. Anyhow, the three of us agreed we couldn’t think of any major reasons why Anchorage couldn’t put on a successful Winter Olympics, and we had a whole lot of reasons why we could.”


The U.S. Olympic Committee felt pretty much the same way, on June 15, 1985, when Anchorage, Lake Placid, N.Y., Reno, and Salt Lake City presented bids to be the U.S. city bidding for the 1992 Winter Olympics. Anchorage won, and presents its bid for the 1992 Olympics at Lausanne, Switzerland, in October.

At the USOC meeting in Indianapolis, Anchorage received 72 votes, Lake Placid 63, Salt Lake City 3, and Reno, 0.

Mystrom believes Anchorage has roughly a 30% chance of landing the 1992 Games. But for 1996, he pegs it at 70%.

“In terms of 1992, the big negative for us as we see it is the fact that by 1988, the Winter Olympics will have been in North America twice (Lake Placid had them in 1980, Calgary, Canada, in 1988) in three Olympiads. Another negative is that the biggest block of International Olympic Committee voters (39) are from Europe.


“All of the focus in our planning from the first weeks on this project was for 1996. But last March, while I was on vacation with my family in Hawaii, I got a call from my office, telling me that the USOC had called to say they wanted us to bid for ’92, that they (the USOC) felt we had a chance. So we accelerated everything.”

Talk of an Alaskan Olympics isn’t new. Since the 1950s, locals have believed Anchorage was a natural for a Winter Olympics. But the subject was dealt with passively, until Mystrom picked up the banner. He arrived in Anchorage in 1972 in a battered van, with a wife and small child, and $700.

He was a Southern Californian, who had attended Rancho Alamitos High School in Garden Grove, then earned a political science degree at the University of Colorado. He’d spent the summer of 1968 on a survey crew in Alaska’s wilds.

“I loved Alaska,” he said. “I saw it as a young state, where a young guy could grow with the state. In March of 1972, I quit my job--in the City of Garden Grove’s Planning Department--cashed everything out and that came to $700. I climbed into our van and got us here in three days.

“I had no job prospects when we arrived, but I got a job selling ads for a TV station here. Later, I started my own agency.”

Today, Mystrom, 42, with 42 employees, owns the largest advertising agency in Alaska. He was chairman of Anchorage’s assembly (city council) when word broke that Mystrom and some associates were interested in pursuing the Olympics.

Mystrom: “The day after that lunch with Von Hoff and Busch, I had a previously scheduled interview with an Anchorage Times reporter. I started talking about the fact that Anchorage as a city had no real goals, that spending oil money wasn’t a goal in itself. I told him the city needed a goal--such as hosting the Winter Olympics.”

And speaking of goals, Mystrom admittedly harbors political aspirations, which certainly wouldn’t be harmed if he brought a successful Olympics to Alaska. There is talk he may run for mayor of Anchorage in 1987 and he admits interest in running for the governorship or a U.S. Senate seat in 1990.


When Mystrom and assorted Anchorage officials make their presentation for the 1992 Winter Olympics in Lausanne, they will be bidding against Albertville, France; Berchtesgaden, West Germany; Falun, Sweden; Lillehammer, Norway; Sofia, Bulgaria, and Cortina, Italy.

Mystrom: “We think Falun is the favorite right now, but we also think they’ve peaked, that they have no momentum now. And I know they do not have enough votes right now to get the Games. We see ourselves and Albertville in second place and we think we have lots of momentum.”

He said the Anchorage presentation in Lausanne would be similar to the slick presentation given at Indianapolis in winning the U.S. bid. It was a presentation with four themes, emphasizing Anchorage’s qualifications with heavy emphasis on its favorable television position, the “uniqueness, magnetism and mystique” of Alaska and “world peace and understanding through sports.”

And even though Mystrom and other Anchorage Olympic officials believe their chances for 1996 are far better than they are for ’92, an intense lobbying campaign is under way for ’92.

Mystrom: “Once you have the U.S. bid, it’s a whole new ball game. You can’t lobby for the U.S. bid with USOC people. But you can lobby all you want with the IOC--you can even bring them to your city and show them around, which we’ve done. It’s really a game, and the name of the game is: ‘First team to get 47 votes wins.’ ”

Mystrom said the Anchorage Organizing Committee (AOC) spent $270,000 getting the U.S. bid, with all of the money raised from private sources. He expects the AOC will have spent about $2 million in privately raised funds by the time the group reaches Lausanne in October.

“It’s all private funding,” he said. “The major contributors so far have been hotels, grocery store chains, banks and oil companies.”

If Anchorage loses for 1992, Mystrom sees the city going head-to-head with Leningrad for ’96.


“We’ve met in Leningrad with their Winter Olympics people and encouraged them to support us for 1992 in exchange for us supporting them for ’96. We tried to show them that if we didn’t get the ’92 Games, we’d be a huge favorite for ’96, with all the work we’ve done.”

Does everyone in Alaska think this is a great idea? Not everybody .

Doug Bartko, a pharmacist from Palmer, has formed a group called “Alaskans Concerned About the Olympics.” He appears at AOC meetings, expressing concern over possible financial shortfalls in the construction of Olympic facilities.

Mystrom says not to worry.

“Television revenue alone will cover the cost of the facilities we have to build,” he said. “We’ll have to spend $35 million for a main stadium for Opening Ceremonies and hockey and figure skating finals; $35 million for ski jump, cross-country, bobsled and luge facilities; $15 million for airport, parking and road improvements; $5 million for athlete housing costs at the proposed University of Alaska-Anchorage Olympic Village, and $5 million for media venue installations.

“Our projection for anticipated television revenue is a very conservative $270 million,” he said. “That’s based on Calgary getting $309 million for 1988, and Seoul getting only $300 million. We see TV revenue in a downward trend, but remember--Seoul has a very poor TV position. Some people tell us we could count on $400 million or more for ’92, but we’re basing everything on a low, conservative figure. It makes us feel more comfortable.

“An Anchorage Winter Olympics would be the most-watched Winter Olympics in history. The more we get into this project, the more we’re aware of how extraordinarily important Anchorage’s television position is, compared to the cities we’re bidding against. All of the important events would be prime time in both the U.S. and Europe.”

In its slide-show presentation, a map is shown as if taken from several thousand miles above the North Pole. From that angle, Anchorage looks like the capital of the world, a commuter flight from the cities of Europe and Asia.

The plan for an Olympic Village at the University of Alaska Anchorage is timed to the completion of a dormitory complex the university had begun before the Olympic drive began.

In terms of numbers, the Winter Olympics is a sideshow when compared to the Summer Olympics. AOC officials say they would expect about 3,600 athletes, coaches and officials for the 1992 Olympics. By comparison, at the 1984 L.A. Olympics, 7,055 athletes participated in a boycotted Olympics.

Los Angeles, Mystrom said, is the AOC’s model.

“If L.A. had failed with the Olympics, if those Games had gone into the red, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you now,” he said. “Los Angeles showed everyone that the private-sector route is the way to go.”

One of the AOC’s advisers is Jay Flood, aquatics venue chief at the L.A. Olympics and now a USOC committee member for site selection.

“A 30% chance for 1992 and 70% for 1996 is about right,” he said.

“The Winter Olympics don’t normally go to the same continent twice in a row, and that’s a tough obstacle to overcome. However, part of Anchorage’s game plan is to lobby hard with IOC people for support on second or third ballots if a deadlock develops.”

Flood and Mystrom aren’t quite correct when they say the Winter Games don’t often go to the same continent consecutively. The Winter Olympics were scheduled for Europe in four consecutive Olympiads, from 1944 to 1956, with the 1944 Games canceled due to World War II. They were also in Europe in 1924 and ’28, and in 1964 and ’68. Eleven of 17 Winter Olympics have been scheduled for Europe.

Anchorage, Flood says, could be Los Angeles reincarnated.

“It’s a little city (235,000, roughly half the population of Alaska.) that can really make it happen. . . . It’s small enough so that it seems everyone is involved and yet big enough to put up world class facilities. They’re putting together a private, L.A.-type, hands-on campaign and the IOC people are fully aware of how well that worked in L.A. Remember, all the other candidates are government-sponsored.”

Flood, a Santa Monica-based architect, will accompany AOC members to Seoul in late April, where another round of lobbying will begin at an IOC meeting. “Really, the Anchorage people have done a terrific job so far,” he said. “They’ve (the AOC) not only isolated every one of the IOC members and contacted them individually, they’ve also identified all the interest groups who would support Anchorage; if not on the first ballot, then on subsequent ballots.

“And they’ve done one other thing no other U.S. city has ever done, to my knowledge, in bidding for the Winter Olympics. They’ve worked very closely with and become involved with the USOC, soliciting support and advice.”

Alyeska. It’s an Indian word, meaning “The Great Land.” If Anchorage does wind up with a 1990s Olympics, you can count on these TV shots leading into downhill skiing competition: The frozen Cook Inlet . . . snowy, jagged peaks of the Chugach and Kenai ranges on both sides of a narrowing fork of the Cook Inlet . . . blue Alaska Railroad locomotives, pulling carloads of spectators south, to Alyeska.

The drive from Anchorage to Alyeska is a trip starting in metropolitan Alaska but running for the most part by the kind of raw Alaska that Capt. James Cook saw two hundred years ago, when he anchored in the inlet named for him, just offshore of present-day Anchorage.

Alyeska, located in the small ski community of Girdwood, is a 42-mile drive from downtown Anchorage. Under present plans, it would be the venue most distant from the village in Anchorage. On the Seward Highway, after leaving downtown, one drives past shopping centers and Anchorage’s light industrial areas before reaching the suburbs. Apartment buildings, condominium developments and new housing tracts are the final ring of the city, 10 miles from downtown.

Suddenly, all of Anchorage is behind you and you’re driving in rural Alaska. As the four-lane Seward Highway passes the Old Seward Highway turnoff on a slight hill, the southern fork of the Cook Inlet appears for the first time, narrowing as it nears its dead end at Portage.

In March, chunks of broken-up ice float motionless on the Cook Inlet’s surface. On both sides of the inlet, snow on the Chugach and Kenai ranges come down within a few hundred feet above the sea level highway.

At this point, the highway dwindles to two lanes. A widening project is planned for 1990. To the left of the highway, frozen waterfalls decorate sheer rock cliffs. To the right, Alaska Railroad tracks continue running beside the inlet. Current plans are for Alaska Railroad shuttle trains to transport athletes, officials and spectators from Anchorage to Alyeska.

Thirty-nine miles south of Anchorage is the turnoff to Girdwood. After the left turn, the two-lane road runs through a community of cabins and condominiums, finally ending at the base of Mt. Alyeska, in front of Alyeska lodge. Here, skiers ride any of five double chair lifts to downhill runs beginning at an elevation of 2,800 feet.

For an Olympics downhill competition, another lift would have to be built, to reach the required 1,000-meter vertical “fall” point.

Elapsed time and distance from downtown Anchorage: 50 minutes and 42 miles.

Improvements at Alyeska and on the highway from Anchorage could cost several million dollars. This gives pause for some thought, when also considering that the contest for the ’96 Winter Olympics may come down to Leningrad and Anchorage.

Leningrad. How ironic. In 1867, the U.S. government purchased all of Alaska for $7 million . . . from the Soviets.


Anchorage, if it wins its bid for the 1992 Winter Olympics in October, would be the second sea-level city and the second largest city to host the Winter Games. Oslo (1952) has hosted the only sea-level Winter Olympics and is also the largest city ever to have the Winter Games. The sites:

Year Site 1924 Chamonix, France 1928 St. Moritz, Switzerland 1932 Lake Placid, N.Y 1936 Garmisch, Germany 1948 St. Moritz, Switzerland 1952 Oslo, Norway 1956 Cortina, Italy 1960 Squaw Valley, Calif. 1964 Innsbruck, Austria 1968 Grenoble, France 1972 Sapporo, Japan 1976 Innsbruck, Austria 1980 Lake Placid, N.Y. 1984 Sarajevo, Yugoslavia 1988 Calgary, Canada