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In novel fashion, Chicago edges L.A. for Olympic bid

A fresh approach proves decisive. The lure of TV revenue and a weak international field could seal the deal for 2016.

April 15, 2007|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Chicago's transformation from nonentity on the international Olympic stage a year ago to possible host city of the 2016 Summer Olympics was affirmed by a close U.S. Olympic Committee vote here on Saturday.

The board opted for the enthusiasm and fresh approach of Chicago, which has never hosted an Olympics, over the experienced hand of Los Angeles, attempting to present the Summer Games for a third time in a span of 84 years.

USOC Chairman Peter V. Ueberroth opened the sealed envelope in a meeting room at a downtown hotel shortly after 4 p.m. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley practically shot out of his chair with the announcement.

"I was very, very nervous and that's why I jumped right out of the seat," Daley said. "Like a little kid watching the Olympics."

He could well be doing that in his own city in 2016. The expected field in the race for the 2016 Games is not especially strong, and recent history suggests that Chicago has the compact, athlete-friendly plan that might appeal to International Olympic Committee officials.

A disappointed Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa vowed to support Chicago and said: "We put our best foot forward. I'm proud of every effort that we made here, and I wouldn't change one single thing."

Saturday's decision sends Chicago into an international pool of candidates, possibly including Madrid, Rome, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Prague, Czech Republic. The IOC will announce its choice in October 2009 at Copenhagen.

Chicago entered the competition with modest expectations. Few cities win on their first bid, though Atlanta was a notable exception. Chicago then survived a rigorous vetting process by the USOC, watching as Houston and Philadelphia were eliminated in July and then San Francisco, an early favorite, fell in November when plans for a new stadium were shelved.

Surprisingly, in the international competition, early handicapping seems to favor the city on Lake Michigan, despite its longshot origins.

Helping Chicago are several factors of Olympic geography and sports politics. Tokyo could be hurt by the geographical closeness of the Olympics next year in another Asian city, Beijing.

Also, although the Summer Games have never been held in South America, Rio de Janeiro could take a back seat to Brazil's aspirations to host the World Cup. Brazil is the sole contender at the moment to host the 2014 soccer games.

With London hosting the Summer Games in 2012, Olympic insiders believe that could undermine the bids of Prague, Madrid and Rome, since consecutive Summer Olympics in Europe would be most unusual.

Additionally, the IOC is mindful of television dollars and has an eye on the American market. NBC's contract expires after the 2012 Games, and negotiations for future television rights might be affected by potentially lucrative U.S. games in 2016.

The U.S. television market benefits especially from coverage that can be carried live. Chicago's Central time zone makes that easy for U.S. audiences. The last Summer Games held in the U.S. were Atlanta's 1996 Olympics.

Working against Chicago is anti-American sentiment world-wide, including from some sectors of the IOC. The unpopular war in Iraq and perceptions of past USOC arrogance add to potential political obstacles.

But Daley and bid chairman Patrick G. Ryan, who met with a small group of reporters after the official announcement, called such hurdles surmountable. Daley, a Democrat, also noted that the Bush administration would be replaced before the IOC vote in 2009.

"I've been around," Daley said. "People talk about the Olympic movement, they talk about your venues, they talk about the athletes. If you let politics interfere ... you would not have the Olympic movement in any city in the world."

And Ryan added: "In talking to some International Olympic Committee leaders, they made the statement that people around the world are not happy with the U.S. government, but they like American people, they respect American people. And we're talking about American people."

The international selection race will be lengthy and very different.

"This was a competition between two U.S. cities -- now it's the world," said Anita DeFrantz, an IOC member who is president of the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles.

She said it is not a time to show people cheerleading. "That's not necessary," she said. "At this level, it's what is the package? How can it be done?"

The international politicking began immediately. Robert Fasulo, the USOC's chief of international relations, was already making phone calls Saturday to officials worldwide, some of them IOC members. He planned to catch a flight later Saturday night for meetings of the Olympic Council of Asia being held in Kuwait.

Chicago's strength in the campaign against Los Angeles was the novelty factor, and even Ueberroth, who appeared to look downcast during the news conferences, acknowledged the influence of civic enthusiasm by the Midwestern city.

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