The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ted Leonsis says Washington needs the Olympics more than the Olympics need Washington

(By Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
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Washington, you’ll recall, is one of four finalists to be chosen for a potential U.S. bid for the 2024 summer games. And Ted Leonsis, its vice chairman, recently went on 106.7 The Fan, where he discussed the narrative of Washington’s bid.

This is longish, but evocative-ish.

“We want to position ourselves as not only America’s Games — because we’re the nation’s capital — but that we can touch a generation of young people and imbue them with Olympic spirit,” Leonsis told the Junkies. “And we want to be unabashed in the way that we go from the Potomac River to the Anacostia River. We want to make sure that Ward 7 and Ward 8 — communities that need our embrace and some transformation — can benefit from the Olympics.

“I’m not ashamed to say, I think Washington D.C. needs the Olympics more than the Olympics need Washington D.C.,” Leonsis went on. “I’ve spent a lot of time in London, and I’ve seen how the Olympics helped to transform that city and make it an even greater city, and what it did with the East End, and the development around the Olympic Stadium that’s now a soccer stadium, how the Olympic village got turned into low income housing, how the public transportation that had to be built and extended to go to the East End now has become a way that connects that East End into the main part of the city, how the investment in the media and technology center spurred venture capital investment.

“It’s creating jobs,” Leonsis said. “Seventy thousand people got put to work. There are about 100,000 young people that served as interns. And it was this very uplifting, great experience. It was profitable, it poured money back into the city. And that’s what we’d like to be able to tell as a story, as a narrative, as a reality of why the Olympics would be a great thing for our community. But there are other cities that will tell that same story. And hopefully we will get picked as the U.S. city.”

The Olympics, Leonsis later said, are “a once in a lifetime [opportunity]. This is certainly the only one that I can bid on. It’s 10 years from now. I feel comfortable that we as a community and city can be spectacular hosts, and we can do the right thing the right way. And why not go for it?

“You know, everyone when we first started said ‘You don’t have a shot.’ That D.C.’s not big enough, that the community’s not supportive enough. And how I’ve been attacking these issues…we’ve been saying ‘Well, tell us what you think the issues are and then let us work to mitigate and solve all those problems.’

“And I liken it to when we put a man on the moon,” Leonsis said. “President Kennedy said we’re gonna put a man on the moon in 10 years, and after he gave the speech everyone said impossible, you can’t do it. And he said ‘Well, why?’ And they said ‘Well, we don’t have propulsion systems that can do that.’ He says ‘Well, what do we need to do to get the propulsion systems?’

“And he put great people on it, and they came back and said ‘Hey, we think we can do that, if we had this.’ And they just literally took every one of the issues one by one and put great people on it. And we in nine years put a man on the moon.

“And I liken this to our moon shot,” Leonsis concluded. “We should be able to bring together all of the D.C.s: federal D.C., the great city that we’ve become, this European city people will definitely want to come and enjoy, the best restaurants in the country, the fastest growing economy, the coolest city (Forbes called us the coolest city), Lonely Planet says we’re the most visited destination in the United States.

“This is a great, great community, and just to be able to have the world’s attention and reintroduce [it to] Washington D.C. We’re looked at as being at times a dysfunctional, un-united community. And our theme for our bid is unity. And I do think we can bring together lots of disparate elements and parts of the city and communities and political outlooks and have them rally around this higher calling, which is how the Olympic games and that Olympic spirit can transform our city and community.”