Chicago gets high marks for 2016 bid presentation

Updated: April 11, 2009, 11:32 AM ET
Associated Press

CHICAGO -- At the end of a long day touring potential venues for the 2016 Summer Games, the head of the International Olympic Committee's inspection team walked into the United Center and right into a hug from gymnastics legend Nadia Comaneci.

If it looked like a reunion of old friends, it was. But it also underlined a key strategy by organizers who hope the IOC will select Chicago for the games: Show and let somebody else tell.

The IOC members had spent more than 10 hours seeing for themselves that most of the events would be in the heart of the city, minutes not only from each other but also from parks, museums and the aquarium. They'd been driven down Lake Shore Drive and saw right outside their windows many venue sites, including the Olympic Village and Lake Michigan itself.

Now came one of the world's most famous gymnasts adding her voice to a chorus that included President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and two Chicagoans whose first names -- Michael and Oprah -- are quite enough, thank you.

Whether it all worked remains to be seen. The IOC commission's chairwoman, Nawal El Moutawakel, offered a glowing assessment of Chicago, the support the bid enjoys in the community and some components of the plan itself. But with Chicago's competitors -- Tokyo, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro -- left to visit, she ultimately said little more than that Chicago remains in the running.

Bid organizers and others agreed that Chicago succeeded in presenting its case to the IOC, which will select the bid city during a vote in October.

"I think we were very pleased with their reaction," Chicago 2016 leader Patrick Ryan said.

Ryan was satisfied the IOC saw that visitors could walk to many of Chicago's venues, while the remaining sites are within short drives of each other and attractions such as Millennium Park.

"The IOC has had enough bad experiences with bus schedules, buses that never worked right," said A.D. Frazier, chief operating officer for the 1996 Atlanta Games. "When (commission members) have got to defend their choices to their colleagues, they like to say 'It's a two-minute walk."

Ed Hula, editor of Around The Rings, a Web site devoted to Olympics coverage, said he suspects the venue locations were not lost on the IOC team.

"Some of these cities you're going to, it's 30, 45 minutes to get to this place or that place," Hula said. Of course, he added, they didn't take them to the site of the equestrian events near the Wisconsin border "or put them on a Greyhound to Wisconsin (the site of the cycling venue).

"They're wise," he said of the IOC. "They know what they haven't seen."

Organizers also placed great emphasis on the voices supporting the bid.

By the time Comaneci and her husband, Olympic gymnastics gold medalist Bart Conner, were chatting with El Moutawakel, commissioners had seen videos from Obama and Clinton and talked in person with top Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Together, their message was clear: The federal government, not to mention a popular president who talks wistfully about a games blocks from his Chicago house, is behind the bid and will do whatever it takes to make sure they're successful.

Clinton's words, in particular, about streamlining the process of getting "the Olympic family" in and out of the country may have resonated with the IOC.

"That was a message they needed to hear and they heard it from a person at the highest level of government," Hula said.

El Moutawakel admitted to being impressed.

She should be, said Frazier, who noted American bids simply don't get this kind of federal support at this stage. Atlanta, he said, never got it. But it's a good sign of how things would go in Chicago.

"When the time comes when somebody's got to step up and provide extra fencing, guards, FBI help, security, they will have it," he said. "This intergovernmental cooperation is just music to (the IOC's) ears."

Hula suggested another reason it all may have sounded good to the IOC.

"There is this preconception on the part of the IOC and other people involved in Olympic sports that the U.S. government is fairly dismissive of the Olympic movement," he said.

Organizers hope the IOC was equally impressed by other voices, including Comaneci, Conner and Bryan Clay, who won gold in the decathlon at the Beijing Games.

"In the last few days we had 70 Olympic and paralympic athletes working with us and I think that really resonated with the evaluation commission, to see how involved (they) have been in the design on our bid and particularly focused on the design of the venues," Ryan said.

Comaneci praised Chicago's vision for a compact games, agreeing with Conner that it can only help athletes' performance. She provided a perspective that organizers wanted commissioners to hear -- starting with El Moutawakel, an Olympic hurdling champion from Morocco.

"From athletes' point of view, when you come to a place where people speak your language ... it's very convenient for the athlete," Comaneci said before talking with IOC commissioners. She noted Chicago is home to many Romanians, making it more comfortable for her and her mother when she visits.

Organizers hammered on that message time and again. Mayor Richard Daley spoke of a city built and rebuilt by immigrants. Ryan noted the dozens of languages spoken in Chicago. On the IOC's final day here, the IOC viewed a video about the city's ethnic diversity in which the narrator said every Olympic team that comes to Chicago "will feel like the home team."

And Obama, in his video, painted Chicago as "a city where races, religions and nationalities all live and work and play and reach for the American dream that brought them here."

If it sounds like overkill, Frazier said it was necessary.

"Chicago's biggest advantage is it is the only one of the bid cities that the Poles should be cheering for, the Romanians should be cheering for," he said. "Show me a Greektown in Tokyo."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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