In novel fashion, Chicago edges L.A. for Olympic bid

Times Staff Writer

Chicago's transformation from nonentity on the international Olympic stage a year ago to possible host city of the 2016 Summer Olympics was affirmed by a close U.S. Olympic Committee vote here on Saturday.

The board opted for the enthusiasm and fresh approach of Chicago, which has never hosted an Olympics, over the experienced hand of Los Angeles, attempting to present the Summer Games for a third time in a span of 84 years.

USOC Chairman Peter V. Ueberroth opened the sealed envelope in a meeting room at a downtown hotel shortly after 4 p.m. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley practically shot out of his chair with the announcement.

"I was very, very nervous and that's why I jumped right out of the seat," Daley said. "Like a little kid watching the Olympics."

He could well be doing that in his own city in 2016. The expected field in the race for the 2016 Games is not especially strong, and recent history suggests that Chicago has the compact, athlete-friendly plan that might appeal to International Olympic Committee officials.

A disappointed Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa vowed to support Chicago and said: "We put our best foot forward. I'm proud of every effort that we made here, and I wouldn't change one single thing."

Saturday's decision sends Chicago into an international pool of candidates, possibly including Madrid, Rome, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Prague, Czech Republic. The IOC will announce its choice in October 2009 at Copenhagen.

Chicago entered the competition with modest expectations. Few cities win on their first bid, though Atlanta was a notable exception. Chicago then survived a rigorous vetting process by the USOC, watching as Houston and Philadelphia were eliminated in July and then San Francisco, an early favorite, fell in November when plans for a new stadium were shelved.

Surprisingly, in the international competition, early handicapping seems to favor the city on Lake Michigan, despite its longshot origins.

Helping Chicago are several factors of Olympic geography and sports politics. Tokyo could be hurt by the geographical closeness of the Olympics next year in another Asian city, Beijing.

Also, although the Summer Games have never been held in South America, Rio de Janeiro could take a back seat to Brazil's aspirations to host the World Cup. Brazil is the sole contender at the moment to host the 2014 soccer games.

With London hosting the Summer Games in 2012, Olympic insiders believe that could undermine the bids of Prague, Madrid and Rome, since consecutive Summer Olympics in Europe would be most unusual.

Additionally, the IOC is mindful of television dollars and has an eye on the American market. NBC's contract expires after the 2012 Games, and negotiations for future television rights might be affected by potentially lucrative U.S. games in 2016.

The U.S. television market benefits especially from coverage that can be carried live. Chicago's Central time zone makes that easy for U.S. audiences. The last Summer Games held in the U.S. were Atlanta's 1996 Olympics.

Working against Chicago is anti-American sentiment world-wide, including from some sectors of the IOC. The unpopular war in Iraq and perceptions of past USOC arrogance add to potential political obstacles.

But Daley and bid chairman Patrick G. Ryan, who met with a small group of reporters after the official announcement, called such hurdles surmountable. Daley, a Democrat, also noted that the Bush administration would be replaced before the IOC vote in 2009.

"I've been around," Daley said. "People talk about the Olympic movement, they talk about your venues, they talk about the athletes. If you let politics interfere ... you would not have the Olympic movement in any city in the world."

And Ryan added: "In talking to some International Olympic Committee leaders, they made the statement that people around the world are not happy with the U.S. government, but they like American people, they respect American people. And we're talking about American people."

The international selection race will be lengthy and very different.

"This was a competition between two U.S. cities -- now it's the world," said Anita DeFrantz, an IOC member who is president of the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles.

She said it is not a time to show people cheerleading. "That's not necessary," she said. "At this level, it's what is the package? How can it be done?"

The international politicking began immediately. Robert Fasulo, the USOC's chief of international relations, was already making phone calls Saturday to officials worldwide, some of them IOC members. He planned to catch a flight later Saturday night for meetings of the Olympic Council of Asia being held in Kuwait.

Chicago's strength in the campaign against Los Angeles was the novelty factor, and even Ueberroth, who appeared to look downcast during the news conferences, acknowledged the influence of civic enthusiasm by the Midwestern city.

Ueberroth, the architect of the successful Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984, all but telegraphed the winner when he opened the envelope, casting the briefest of glances to the Chicago bid group in the audience.

"This area of the country awakened to the Olympic movement and stepped forward so aggressively, it caught everyone's attention early," he said later.

His quick look did not go unnoticed by Chicago officials, who were soon celebrating.

Unlike voting at the IOC level, the USOC would not reveal the final totals of this contest. However, Ueberroth characterized the vote as close.

Almost immediately after the announcement, Villaraigosa came across the aisle to congratulate Daley and the Chicago delegation. The stakes were high for the two mayors, who attached themselves to the respective bids with political abandon.

Even before Saturday's decision, Villaraigosa had pledged to help Daley in his effort, should Chicago win, saying: "It isn't about L.A. or Chicago; you'll see me schlep wherever he needs me."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had made appearances on behalf of the Los Angeles bid, called the outcome "a disappointment," but he issued a statement thanking those "who worked so hard" on behalf of Los Angeles.

"I am proud of all our efforts that brought us to the final round of the U.S. competition," Schwarzenegger said.

Villaraigosa made it clear even before the announcement that Los Angeles would continue to compete for future Games, even if unsuccessful this time. If Chicago's bid falters and no city from the Americas ends up with the 2016 Games, he said L.A. would go after the 2020 Games "without question."

Los Angeles appeared to have a number of advantages going into Saturday's showdown in the nation's capital. Unlike Chicago, Los Angeles has an Olympic Stadium in place, the Coliseum, and all but one of its venues already are built. Chicago faces a substantial and costly building program.

But the strength of Los Angeles' bid -- having facilities in place because it has hosted two Summer Games -- was perceived by some as a weakness compared with the freshness of Chicago. Saturday in Washington, the cities made one final pitch, meeting in the morning before the 11-member USOC board. The teams from Chicago and Los Angeles had 40 minutes each for a presentation, followed by a 20-minute session for questions.

Los Angeles bid committee president David Simon said the issue of hosting the Games for a third time did not come up in the final meeting, and USOC officials later would say it was not a factor.

"It did not come up as a question today," Simon said, although it was raised in prior meetings. "We felt we addressed it when we met with them in Los Angeles on the site visit.

"This always was an apples-and-oranges choice in the sense you had one city proposing to do a lot of construction and one city proposing to do almost none."

Los Angeles also may have been hurt by the sprawl of venues across the metropolitan area. Chicago proposed to keep the Games concentrated along its picturesque lakeshore.

Chicago drew kudos from USOC officials for its ambitious plan to house athletes in a lakefront village.

Though Chicago faced questions about its financing, Ryan and his group answered by saying it had $650 million of public and private funding in line, though only $500 million has been approved.

Saturday night, a downcast Los Angeles bid committee searched for answers. Many still felt undermined by familiarity -- a reluctance to hold another Olympics in a city that hosted the Games as recently as 1984.

Whether or not that was a deciding factor, Simon shrugged off the lingering question saying: "You can't change your resume."

Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.

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