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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | MIKE DOWNEY

BACK TO THE FUTURE? : Houston Making Texas-Size Bid for 2008, but These Guys Love L.A.

July 31, 1996|MIKE DOWNEY

ATLANTA — I am not sure why anybody would want to have an Olympic Games after this, but "Mattress Mac" is pulling out all the stops.

He is dying to bring the 2008 Summer Olympics to his city, Houston. His real name is Jim McIngvale, and he runs a furniture store. As soon as Centennial Olympic Park reopened for business Tuesday morning, so did "Texas 2008," the office suite Mattress Mac opened there, the one with the longhorn steer skulls on the wall.

Late last Friday night, Mac threw a party.

Larry Hagman came. The actor wore a cowboy hat and had a saddlebag with a "J.R." monogram, reminiscent of his "Dallas" television show. The leader of Sweden's delegation ran downstairs from his own office, because he heard J.R. was there. Hagman was asked how much he would like to see the Olympics come to Texas in 2008. Hagman, who recently underwent a liver transplant, replied, "I would love to be anywhere in 2008."

Nearly 300 guests turned out. Carl Lewis came. The track star and Houston resident said Mattress Mac was doing all the right things. Dan O'Brien, the decathlete, was also there. So was Lee P. Brown, the former Houston police chief and federal drug czar, who is McIngvale's partner in Texas 2008. So far, Mac has spent at least $250,000, part of it on the party.

It broke up a half-hour before the Centennial Park bomb went off.

A few blocks away, Brown loaned a credit card to a police officer, who needed one to make a phone call. Brown felt lucky, having left the park just before the blast. He has always felt lucky.

"I was on Flight 800 to Paris, a couple of years ago," he said.

Luck is what Houston will need, if it is to become the United States' official nominee as host city for the 2008 Olympics. For one thing, Boston, Cincinnati, Chicago, New York and Seattle have also thrown their hats into the Olympic ring. For another, after the disorganization and destruction in Atlanta, now isn't a good time to pitch the International Olympic Committee on what a swell place your town is.

Then, there are other factors.

The IOC and USOC committee members I have spoken to generally agree that 2012 is a more likely year for the Summer Olympics to return to the United States.

They also agree that, if Los Angeles asks to be considered--as it probably will--the fact that L.A. knows how to run an Olympics will work very much in its favor.

So, Mattress Mac has to deal with that.

Oh, and one more thing:

"This guy isn't running Houston's bid," U.S. Olympic spokesman Mike Moran pointed out. "He may think he is, but he's not. He's supposed to be here 'wooing' the IOC, but first he's got to woo us. We've never even spoken to him."

There are split factions in Houston, and the so-called Texas 2008 organization has broken off from City Councilman John Kelley, who, aside from being Mary Lou Retton's father-in-law, is the man who has the official support of Mayor Bob Lanier, Judge Robert Eckels and members of the Texas legislature whose endorsements appear in "Houston: A Candidate City for the 21st Century" literature being distributed here.

Let's look at the big picture, an Olympiad at a time.

(And, for those who continue to abuse the word, an Olympiad is the four-year period between Games, not the two-week period of actual competition.)

THE NEXT THREE SUCKERS

(I MEAN OLYMPIC HOSTS)

Three cities have been awarded future Olympic Games--Nagano, Japan (1998 Winter), Sydney, Australia (2000 Summer) and Salt Lake City (2002 Winter).

I know Salt Lakers must already be anxious. One of Utah's largest taxpayers, basketball player Karl Malone, was among the first athletes in Atlanta to put his family on a plane and send it home after the bomb went off.

But security isn't so difficult to provide at a Winter Olympics, where you have fewer sports and generally less craziness. OK, so you have to peek under people's earmuffs, frisk long underwear. Other than that . . .

Sydney already is planning to heavily increase security, based on what happened here. According to Michael Knight, Australia's minister for the Olympics, "No one can guard against every lunatic that may be out there, but nobody wants Sydney to be turned into an armed fortress. What we can do is reduce the risk as much as possible but still give people an enjoyable experience."

Good luck, mate.

It has to be more enjoyable than Georgia, or, as it will soon be known on its license plates, The Bomb Scare State. They don't vacuum buildings here, they evacuate them. I have it written in my daily diary: 8 a.m.: Brush teeth. 8:15: Breakfast. 8:30 Bomb threat. 8:45: Return to breakfast.

THE RACE FOR 2004

(OR, HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING ABOUT THE BOMB)

Believe it or not, 10 international cities still want the Olympics.

I would think at this point, they would rather have an outbreak of mad cow disease. Having the Olympics is like waxing your kitchen floor and then telling 5 million people: "Wipe your feet." Next thing you know, there are muddy footprints on your floor, and somebody's stolen the toaster.

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