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Chicago’s Olympic disappointment

As a sports fan, I absolutely love watching the Olympic Games and have done so since the Grenoble Winter and Mexico City Summer Games. I love the fact that when the Games are happening, we are reminded that, despite competing on national teams for the ultimate prize of an Olympic gold medal, we are one species and one planet.

To me, the Olympics are an enjoyable, drama-packed microcosm of life in many ways. You can train for years to be an elite athlete in your sport, but your best may not be good enough to win an Olympic medal on that particular day. You can be sailing along and headed to ultimate victory, but a small mistake, badly timed injury or failure to execute at a critical juncture ends up costing you a spot in the medal round.

On the other hand, there are athletes who show up completely unheralded, but step up their athletic performances to defeat the odds and become Olympic champions. And, unfortunately, there are also those will stoop to cheating and other underhanded measures to win at all costs.

It was announced that Rio de Janeiro will be the host city for the 2016 Olympics, and I have to say that it is disappointing that Chicago didn’t get it.

The pre-meeting buzz was that the intense competition for the 2016 Games was between Chicago and Rio. Then, we were eliminated in the first round.

I think Chicago had an uphill battle for several reasons. There’s still some anti-American sentiment on the planet, even though President Obama in his ten months in office has done much to rehabilitate our tattered image. The result makes it clear that the eight years of animosity the Bush administration’s ‘screw the world’ foreign policy stirred up hasn’t subsided yet. I suspect some IOC members saw a golden opportunity to stick it to the United States in a painfully public way.

American right-wingers playing politics with the bid in order to “embarrass President Obama” and score political points with their base didn’t help either. I was particularly incensed about the open gloating from Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and other conservative propagandists cheering the loss as a “defeat for Obama.”

These are the same conservatives that “love” America? Yeah, right.

I must point out that Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had an extremely persuasive argument. He stated that it was unfair for North American, European and Asian cities to have repeatedly hosted the games while African and South American ones haven’t.

“It is a time to address this imbalance,” he said to the IOC delegates. “It is time to light the Olympic cauldron in a tropical country.” This argument surely resonated with people, combined with bloc voting.

Madrid, thanks to former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch’s impassioned speech, actually led the first round of voting with 28 votes compared to 26 for Rio and 22 for Tokyo. Chicago garnered just 18 votes. In the second round, Rio surged ahead with 46 votes to Madrid’s 29. Tokyo exited with 22. Rio secured the games in the third round voting with 66 votes while Madrid garnered 32.

“We have sent out a message that we want to go global,” said IOC member Gerhard Heiberg of Norway.

Heiberg and other IOC members did say they were chagrined about the painfully public diss that was inflicted on Chicago. “I am very sad; I am very sorry. This should not have happened. This was, I can’t say a wrong decision, but it was not a right decision.”

IOC member Kevan Gosper of Australia stated, “The whole thing doesn’t make sense, other than there has been a stupid bloc vote.” Also factoring into this was feuding between the USOC and the International Olympic committee over the splits of lucrative Olympic television revenue from US TV networks, and, as Gosper mentioned, strategic bloc voting that sought to eliminate Chicago as a potential threat to Rio.

IOC President Jacques Rogge stated in a press conference that Chicago would have been a better financial choice for the Olympic Games in 2016, if the IOC were inclined to follow the money.

“It is clear that the IOC in its choice has not chosen, as it has been criticized many times, for the big money. Had we had big money as a consideration then we would have gone with Chicago. That’s what it shows. That proves that money is not the driving force in the choice of an Olympic city.”

I feel Chicago’s pain, especially in light of the fact that Rio’s bid had been consistently criticized by the IOC’s own evaluation commission. On paper, many of its elements would probably rank it weakest of the four shortlisted cities.

My hometown of Houston has been trying to land the Olympic Games since 1996. Despite being told by USOC officials that we’ve had superior bid plans, noting the enthusiastic political backing from citizens and city, county and state officials, we lost out in the final rounds to become the USOC bid city for the 2012 and 2016 games to New York and Chicago respectively, because of their perceived “better”  international cachet.

The careful post-mortems on why the bid failed are already underway. They will be hashed out for the next several months and studied by future US Olympic bid cities like my hometown, so that they come to a more successful conclusion.

Ultimately, Chicago was a world-class city capable of hosting the Olympic Games before October 2, 2009, and it will still be a world class city capable of hosting the Olympics afterward. As a matter of fact, Chicago was chosen by the IOC to host the 1904 Olympic Games. Since the 1904 World’s Fair was being held in St. Louis, MO, the Games were moved to St. Louis. Whether Chicago bids for it again is another matter.

Once again, I’ll admit it was past time for an Olympics to happen on the South American continent. When August 5, 2016 rolls around on the calendar, I’ll still be parked in front of the TV, watching the Games being broadcast from Rio de Janeiro. As I’m doing so, it won’t keep the fleeting ‘that could have been us’ thought from crossing my mind as I watch those opening ceremonies.

As the Olympic Creed states:

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

There’s always 2020.