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U.S. bid is down to two

Times Staff Writer

Not only did the U.S. race for host city of the 2016 Olympics become a two-way contest between Los Angeles and Chicago, but San Francisco’s withdrawal on Monday consolidated Los Angeles’ bid.

Instead of a typical split along Northern California-Southern California lines, organizers planned on selling their Olympic campaign as a California-wide bid, boosted by the possibility of using the drawing power and persuasion of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“In the end, if either Los Angeles or San Francisco had been selected by the USOC, it would be a California bid as well as a city bid,” said Los Angeles bid committee chairman Barry Sanders. “Now it’s clear that we are that California bid.”

San Francisco’s campaign was dealt an unrecoverable blow last Wednesday when the 49ers stopped negotiations with the city for a new stadium project at Candlestick Point, saying it intended to move to Santa Clara.

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The stadium at Candlestick Point would have been the signature piece of the bid, the site of track and field events as well as the opening and closing ceremonies.

San Francisco’s campaign was virtually torpedoed by the 49ers’ decision.

The failure to have a fundamentally solid stadium deal in hand was called a “non-starter” by U.S. Olympic Committee officials.

“The damage has been done and it can’t be pulled back,” said Scott Givens, managing director and chief executive officer of San Francisco’s 2016 bid committee at a news conference.

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San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom acknowledged the impact of the stadium uncertainty in a letter Monday to USOC chairman Peter Ueberroth, writing, “The events of last week have made it virtually impossible for us to provide that certainty in the time frame required, along with creating an unbridgeable perception problem.”

The USOC will decide by the end of this year whether to pursue a bid for the 2016 Games, and if it should move forward, will then choose between Chicago and Los Angeles by mid-April.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke about the reduced field of contenders.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Gavin Newsom and the effort they put together. No question they put a great effort together, deserving of a good city,” he told The Times.

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“Now that there are two cities, my good friend [Chicago Mayor] Richard Daley and I have said that we’re both going to put our best efforts to host these games. But America wins if an American city is [selected] ... the world wins in 2016. We’re going to put our best foot forward.”

Villaraigosa was appearing at a bid-related function at Coeur D’Alene Elementary School in Venice with other officials from the Los Angeles 2016 committee, launching “Ready, Set, Gold!” The pilot program, designed to aid youngsters in areas of fitness and health, was started this school year by bid officials, enlisting the aid of Southern California Olympians.

The news from San Francisco emerged as Sanders began speaking to the schoolchildren and Olympians. Even though San Francisco’s withdrawal was expected, the realization that the race was between Chicago and Los Angeles spurred an extra level of energy among officials.

There also were other considerations: Now, L.A. officials can explore holding early-round soccer games at either Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto or at Spartan Stadium in San Jose.

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“In a sense, you say we’re a little bit closer than we were before,” said David Simon, Los Angeles bid committee president. “It started out as one out of five cities, and now it’s one out of two. This is the closest L.A. has been to an Olympic bid in 30 years. Because it was 1977 when L.A. was named the candidate for ’84.”

Amid all the talk about Olympic stadiums and traffic patterns, one former Olympian mentioned another difference between the cities.

“The weather issue in the Midwest is very, very volatile,” Dwight Stones, a former high jumper, said. “I don’t know from the standpoint if you are looking at the best situation for athletes to compete outdoors....

“And I’d have to say, if I was a betting man, the odds certainly are in L.A.'s favor.”

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com


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