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Bill Dwyre

An Olympic bid where fresh is flat

April 17, 2007|Bill Dwyre

My cup of excitement runneth over for the 2016 Chicago Olympics.

Finally, something in the Olympic movement makes sense.

To hell with fiscally responsible Games, the kind the Los Angeles committee was proposing. To hell with hesitating over paying billions for dozens of new structures, which, in the case of many Olympics, end up as pawn shops and places with sheets hanging from the windows.

How stupid to go back to the same old sports venues. How awful to have to endure that creaky old Los Angeles Coliseum. So Rafer Johnson lighted a torch there. So there is more Olympic history there than in the entire state of Illinois. So there are dozens of world-famous Olympic figures memorialized on plaques in the peristyle end there. So what?

It's old. Chicago is new, happening. As will be its main stadium, once they get all those temporary bleachers and Porta Pottis up.

Who really cares that Olympic-ready places such as Staples Center, Honda Center and Galen Center are new and weren't used in 1984, Los Angeles' last Olympics.

It's the crusty Coliseum that's the flash point here, and it obviously isn't good for anything anymore, except maybe games played by the best college football team in the country the last three or four years.

Don't forget what that sage Art Modell said about the Coliseum, about how you couldn't put a new dress on an old hooker.

It is time to celebrate new things, new directions.

I read where Chicago is fresh, enthusiastic, excited. Golly, gee. So am I, now.

Here I am, nine years away from getting to land at O'Hare, jump on I-90 from the airport and drive down the Kennedy, then the Dan Ryan and, 2 1/2 hours later, be right there at the new, plush, Olympic athlete chateaus at the lakefront. Free sailboats for all shotputters.

I will not care at that stage that the construction bill for all this will be running neck and neck with the national debt, that somehow all this will work its way into my pocketbook in the form of federal taxes, even if I am never told exactly how.

Who cares about that? These Olympics will be fresh, enthusiastic. Chicago has spirit. It's where it's at now. When you have Navy Pier, who needs Disneyland?

I can't wait to visit the new $82-million Mayor Daley Team Handball Center. Word is, they already have a nickname for it -- SOB (Son of the Boss).

Or how about the $75-million Dick Butkus Synchronized Swim Stadium. How proud Dick will be.

The Olympic village for the athletes on the lakefront was a great move by the Chicago committee. The L.A. committee was going to try saving money by putting the athletes in dorms. How shortsighted.

For years, in this country and worldwide, athletes have been deprived and ignored, and it took the vision of the Chicago committee, and the informed buy-in of the USOC voters, to recognize the need to pamper them.

Another $1.1 billion? Not a problem. Let's make sure their beds have pillow-top mattresses, the rooms have flat-screen TVs and marble Jacuzzis and that there is a Dairy Queen right next to Spago. You expect somebody to throw a javelin for anything less?

Give credit to the USOC selection panel. It clearly had a sense of what floats the boat of the International Olympic Committee, which will vote its final approval to this Chicago dream in 2009.

IOC members, with some exceptions such as Anita DeFrantz, are either royalty in their countries or act as if they are. Put a ballot in front of them that says three weeks in a luxury suite overlooking Lake Michigan for Mr. and Mrs. Aristocrat of Monaco, and the other guys might as well go home.

Sure, there might be some charm in some of the other candidate cities, but how can Madrid or Rome or Tokyo or Rio de Janeiro measure up to Lake Michigan's shoreline in July? OK, so there might be a little humidity problem, but that's why the chateaus will have air-conditioning. What's another couple million?

And do those other cities have a Miracle Mile like Chicago's Michigan Avenue? Of course not. Mrs. Aristocrat has already ordered a new platinum card.

In retrospect, L.A.'s bid committee really blew it. They missed an obvious point. Los Angeles has water too. Matter of fact, it is bigger than Chicago's water. It is called an ocean.

All the L.A. group had to do was put up a Ritz-Carlton in Malibu for the IOC and a Four Seasons in Santa Monica for the athletes, and the bid was L.A.'s. That still would have cost several million less than Chicago will spend on that George Halas Weight Training Center and Cocktail Lounge.

In the end, it is sad to see how badly the L.A. bid committee misread things. It operated under the misguided premise that there should be a bottom line on these Olympic ventures. So Peter Ueberroth made the Olympic movement $225 million in 1984 and may have saved future Games for Mr. and Mrs. Aristocrat. So what?

Remember, Montreal showed no fiscal restraint in the 1976 Games and got its debt paid off a year or so ago. Call it a municipal mortgage. Thirty years and out. No worries.

This was about spirit, enthusiasm and a fresh new face. For once, our Olympic leaders had the vision to appreciate a new place and the guts to give it a chance to show what it could do.

Kind of like they did with Atlanta.

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Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Dwyre, go to latimes.com/dwyre.

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