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Chicago Gets Ready for Gay Games VII, Festivities

July 14, 2006|From the Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Let the Gaymes begin.

And let the tourist dollars flow, the parties rage and the protests simmer.

The seventh Gay Games -- called the Gaymes by those in the know -- begin Saturday with about 12,000 athletes marching into Soldier Field and wrap up a week later with closing ceremonies at Wrigley Field.

In between, in 30 contests across the city and suburbs, gay and lesbian former Olympians will compete alongside weekend warriors in a sprawling event that leaders pride on its inclusion. There will be same-sex pairs figure skating and a "Pink Flamingo Aquatic Show," but fans can also watch more mainstream offerings, such as basketball, darts and bowling.

Since Chicago was awarded the Games in 2004, controversy has followed, including a major leadership shake-up and the opposition of some local gay leaders to hosting the event on short notice. Though skepticism quietly remains, organizers say they are ready and make rosy predictions of 100,000 participants, spectators and volunteers pumping as much as $80 million into the city.

City officials say the long-term payoff could be greater.

Promoting Chicago this week as gay-friendly, Mayor Richard M. Daley said the Games would serve as a test case in the city's bid for the 2016 Olympics -- a chance to prove it could host a major athletic event spread across a broad area.

Held every four years, the Gay Games were founded in San Francisco in 1982, and the U.S. last hosted in 1994 in New York.

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