U.S. Olympic Committee member Bob Ctvrtlik, who has emerged as a major pitchman for New York's campaign for the 2012 Games, arrived at International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, last week just as New York's bid leaders received the devastating news that their proposed Olympic stadium -- the centerpiece of the bid -- had been decimated by a state board's refusal to support it.
Ctvrtlik, who is also one of the 100-plus IOC members who will vote to determine the site of the 2012 Games on July 6 in Singapore, said he struggled to explain what then appeared to be a colossal crisis to his IOC colleagues, about 20 to 25 of whom were in Lausanne at the time.
"It was a rough couple of days," he said this week from Los Angeles.
But just as it appeared New York might have fallen out of contention, bid organizers and Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a new stadium plan Sunday night. With their hopes for a state-of-the-art venue on Manhattan's West Side obliterated, they turned to a proposed stadium funded largely by the New York Mets at Flushing Meadow in Queens, already the site of a number of venues.
"I think the damage can be overcome," Ctvrtlik said. "They have great leadership at the top of the bid. If there is a way to make things happen, they have repeatedly done that."
Though Ctvrtlik and other international officials insist that New York remains firmly in the IOC's race, this was not the way the USOC wanted to send its U.S. representative to Singapore. Damage control was not figured to be on the agenda this late in the process with so much at stake. Instead of polishing off an airtight bid in the weeks before the election, New York bid leaders are scrambling to get the requisite approvals for their new plans -- and persuade IOC leaders around the world that their bid still merits consideration despite competition from Paris, London, Madrid and Moscow, the other cities in the most glamorous field in Olympic bid history.
"We stumbled, we fell; it was totally unexpected; people gasped," NYC2012 Executive Director Jay Kriegel said. But "after looking like we were in disarray. . . . we're back on the field and we're going to run to the finish line determined as ever."
The USOC craves Olympic Games on U.S. soil because of the phenomenal boost in funding and sponsorship a local Games engender. Years ago, the former leadership at what was then a drastically different USOC -- the organization has since been downsized and reshaped thanks to congressional intervention -- set forward a rigorous U.S. bid city selection process that was designed to mirror the IOC's in technical requirements and other considerations.
Three years ago, near the end of a six-year race originally involving eight candidates, a USOC site evaluation team selected New York and San Francisco from a narrowed-down field that included Washington-Baltimore and Houston. Charles H. Moore, the evaluation team chair, at the time said the cities scored so similarly in a dozen categories that members essentially tossed out their technical analyses and voted on gut feelings, penalizing Washington-Baltimore for the international ill will the U.S. government often generates.
Though New York was the only city that pitched a plan that included a billion-dollar construction project -- the nixed stadium would have cost $2.2 billion -- New York then prevailed over San Francisco in front of the USOC's then-100-member board of directors. (The board now is composed of 11 members.) "We had assurances that they had the support and would get it done," said Evie Dennis, a former USOC vice president who was a member of the site evaluation team and USOC board. "It wasn't a big issue . . . We looked at a lot of things. If we had to do it again, I would recommend the same kind of process."
Former site evaluation team member Herman Frazier called the stadium debacle "a once-in-a-lifetime curveball that got thrown at New York City." He said, however, that the USOC should insist that future bidding cities build credible backup plans in case things go awry. USOC board member Anita DeFrantz, who is also one of the three U.S. IOC members, said the board likely would examine the entire selection process after the July 6 vote.
"If there is one thing we may have learned out of this, it's that if there is no concrete shovel in the ground for a [venue], then what is Plan B?" Frazier said. "And let's make sure we leave Plan B on the table."
Kriegel said bid leaders had no viable alternative to the Manhattan stadium before the Mets offered to contribute $600 million to a new stadium last week. He also said the IOC's excruciatingly detailed venue requirements made submitting backup plans largely unfeasible and possibly even destructive -- having a thought-out Plan B, he said, might have suggested a lack of confidence in Plan A.
Kriegel said the new stadium plan, which requires approval from the international federations for track and field and soccer and the IOC executive board, fits perfectly into New York's overall proposal for the Olympics. He pointed out that it sits in a venue cluster that already has been fitted to meet security, transportation and other requirements.
USOC Chief Executive Officer Jim Scherr called the new plan an "excellent venue for an Olympic stadium" and said its eleventh-hour evolution might even prove a benefit to the New York bid, long considered an underdog to Paris and London.
"Obviously, we would not like to have gone through this loop, but I think it demonstrates [bid leaders'] commitment to the Olympic Games and making things work," he said. "It might turn out, in a strange way, to actually help them."