Second City Gets Shot at First Games

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 14, 2007

By pitching its vision of an Olympic Games along Lake Michigan and backing it with a solid financial plan, Chicago prevailed over Los Angeles Saturday to become the U.S. entrant in the international competition for the 2016 Summer Games.

When U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Peter Ueberroth tore open a sealed envelope and announced Chicago's victory, the dozen members of the Chicago bid committee erupted in cheers, tears and hugs while the Los Angeles group solemnly rose from its chairs to extend congratulations.

"This is an opportunity for us to really showcase not only a great American city but a great country," said Chicago Mayor Richard Daly, who has led the effort along with bid chairman Patrick Ryan, moments after the announcement. "I was very, very nervous. That's why I jumped right out of my seat."

Ueberroth declined to reveal the vote, but said several people on the 11-member board voted for Los Angeles and described the tally as close.

"I love the idea of the athletes on the lakefront," Ueberroth said. "If [Chicago wins the Games], that will be something new for the athletes of the world."

After a brief celebration in a jammed hotel ballroom, Chicago officials immediately turned their attention to the International Olympic Committee race, which the city will enter officially by the end of the summer. A large field including Tokyo; Prague, Czech Republic; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Madrid; and Rome is expected. The IOC will elect the host city in October 2009.

"It's just the beginning," Ryan said. "It's a long road . . . [but] it's a great day for Chicago, and 2016, here we come."

Chicago, which has never held an Olympic Games, impressed the USOC with its attractive and compact venue plan, emphasis on the Paralympics (which take place immediately after the Olympics) and legacy program, officials said.

But Bob Ctvrtlik, one of the U.S. representatives to the IOC, said Chicago's financial package might have swayed the outcome.

The Chicago City Council already has approved up to $500 million in government funds, and bid leaders announced Saturday they expected to secure $500 million from a private insurance company. Several prominent Chicago legislators, meantime, have announced their support for an additional $150 million in state backing, for a total of $1.15 million.

"I believe they gave our board a level of assurance that might have been the differentiation between the cities," Cvrtlik said.

Los Angeles, which held the 1932 and 1984 Olympics, presented $500 million in state and city financial guarantees. It also offered a plan with upgraded venues already in place, but it likely suffered from the more sprawling nature of its bid.

The USOC board includes two-time Olympian gymnast and Washington resident Jair Lynch and Discovery Communications Chair John S. Hendricks, who was a vice-chair for Washington-Baltimore's unsuccessful bid for the 2012 Games. U.S. IOC members Anita DeFrantz, Jim Easton and Ctvrtlik also are members.

After the stinging fourth-place finish of New York two years ago in the race for the 2012 Games, the USOC considered for more than a year whether to submit a 2016 bid city, revamped its bid selection process and vowed to be more involved with the eventual U.S. representative. USOC officials also displayed plenty of humility Saturday, determined to show the IOC they had learned from the previous election.

"We know we have no guaranteed right or entitlement to host the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games," USOC CEO Jim Scherr said.

USOC officials said the organization is well-positioned to ensure there will be no repeat of the 2012 vote. Soon after New York's selection, the USOC decreased its board from more than 100 to 11 members. The shakeup, Scherr said, improved the organization but might have hurt New York's ability to move forward smoothly.

This "will be a true partnership," Ctvrtlik said. "It wasn't that way in 2012, but it will be that way going toward the 2016 bid."

Last year, the USOC ramped up its international relations department, naming Ctvrtlik its vice president, international, and Robert Fasulo its chief of international relations. Both are considered well-connected in the Olympic world. Fasulo said Saturday he called several IOC members moments after the selection to tell them "what they're going to see is something different coming from the U.S."

Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco were selected as finalists last summer from a five-city field that included Houston and Philadelphia. San Francisco dropped out last November after plans for a stadium fell through.

"I look forward to going to the Games in Chicago in 2016," Los Angeles bid director Barry Sanders said. "And I know all of our team looks forward to making sure that happens . . . We want to help in every way we can."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company