High anxiety is the theme for the next 30 days in Chicago and Colorado Springs as Chicago 2016 and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) count down the hours and minutes until October 2, the announcement of the 2016 Olympic Games host city from Copenhagen during the 121st Session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Prior to the final vote, Chicago will go first with its one-hour, formal presentation to the IOC, followed by Tokyo, Rio and Madrid. The official announcement follows a two-and-one-half hour session to vote, eliminating cities by rounds until the winner is named. This is big-time drama, trust me and there is a huge amount of critical things on the line for each city.
I sat through these white-knuckle moments that led to the selection of Atlanta and Salt Lake City as hosts for the Games, and watched the massive roar from thousands gathered in each downtown of the cities as the decision was announced on a big-screen, and the ensuing, joyous celebrations.
But the one I will remember most vividly is the July 6, 2005, announcement from Singapore that London had upset Paris to win the 2012 Olympic Games, while America’s candidate, New York City, went out in the second round. I was in my third year of employment with NYC2012, the Olympic bid group in New York as its chief communications counselor while our leadership and Mayor Mike Bloomberg were in Singapore for the vote, I had chosen to stay in Manhattan to help produce our community activity and deal with the New York media.
We had created a sort of Olympic “stadium” at Rockefeller Center above the famous ice rink, with bleachers, a giant big screen, stage, and a artificial turf infield. We had space for maybe 7,000 people in the venue, plus standing room in the plaza for another 3,000 or so. On the evening of July 5, we trotted out celebrities, Olympians, Broadway performers and others to entertain a crowd that had gathered to watch the live TV feed of each of the candidate cities’ presentations (Moscow, Madrid, London, Paris and New York). That wrapped up about 1:30 a.m., and I headed back to the Regency Hotel to get some sleep. I recall the feeling I had as I stood in the empty plaza that early morning, with the stars out, the skyscrapers around me, and the sense of anticipation for the next morning. I think I said to myself, “This is as good as my job will ever get."
The morning of July 6 dawned with a light rain and stifling humidity and heat as the crowd gathered again at Rockefeller Center to watch the live feed of the final IOC vote around 7:00am. There were 15-20 TV crews and 60 reporters on hand in the media stand. Governor George Pataki was in his car near the venue and then it got very quiet. The first announcement was that Moscow was eliminated in the first round, which was expected. Within minutes, the image of IOC President Rogge appeared again with the terse announcement that “New York will not advance” to the third round. It was over, and the Governor’s car roared away to Albany, the crowd left quickly and without much more than an initial groan, and then came the news media.
I stood for the next hour on the turf, going from camera crew to camera crew, from scrum to scrum of reporters and photographers, all asking the obvious question. "What happened and why?” As I had done scores of times while with the USOC over 25 years, I spoke from the heart, no notes or script, and did my best to tell the story of why it was not New York, and why issues like the contentious West Side stadium fiasco, anti-American sentiment abroad, and other things had done in what was a magnificent bid in the end.
And it was a wonderful bid and plan. All of New York, its Boroughs and its ethnic communities and rich tapestry of citizens had come together for this effort. We imagined a 2012 opening ceremony in the new Olympic Stadium, with boats and ferries delivering the athletes to the pier by the venue, and fireworks across the city, and all that goes with what this amazing American city can offer. And sports at iconic venues like the Armory in Harlem, Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden and others
I departed by car to spend the rest of the day going from TV studio to radio studio, to newspaper offices and live remotes, ending at midnight with a bizarre final live piece from the ESPN Zone at Times Square. I slept the sleep of the dead that evening. Bid chief Dan Doctoroff had sent a message from Singapore to us that he would host a party on Monday evening for our staff and leaders at his home for the young men and women, fresh-faced, vibrant, ever hopeful and optimistic, now crushed and in tears, many of them having given up good jobs to come on board with us to win the Games, for the volunteers from several nations, and for others who had given so much over the time since the USOC picked New York over San Francisco in Colorado Springs in November of 2002. I was not up to that, and I had no idea then what I would do next for a living, and I slipped out of the city the next afternoon and back to Colorado Springs. It was finally over for me.
On the flight home, I thought of the incredible events we had staged in New York as part of our effort, the announcement that we had made the IOC’s final list of five early one morning at Bryant Park with Olympians and Paralympians on stage surrounding the Mayor, the announcement of the five finalists for the Olympic athlete village design project at historic Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Terminal, the send-off of our official Bid Book from the Brooklyn Bridge on a wintry afternoon with the structure jammed with thousands of fans and that view of the city and the view from the 36th floor of our offices at One Liberty Plaza, that looked directly down at hallowed Ground Zero of our 9/11 national tragedy where the Twin Towers had stood.
Now, on October 2, it will be time for thousands in Chicago to face that moment when the announcement comes, when dreams and commitment are rewarded or dashed, when joy reigns or sadness crushes the city’s spirit.
What are Chicago’s chances? Who can say? The small band of astute American journalists who cover the Olympic movement consistently writes after the IOC Evaluation report, that Rio de Janeiro might now appear to have momentum that is gaining steam. There appears to be IOC angst over the complete financial guarantee by the city against a shortfall, though the Mayor of Chicago says he will produce that.
A sobering Chicago Tribune/WGN poll out last week says that now, only 47 per cent of Chicagoans favor the bid, down from a reported 61 per cent in February, South America has never hosted the Olympic Games. Will President Obama go to Copenhagen to stump for his hometown and work the magic that UK Prime Minister Tony Blair produced in Singapore over 48 hours in 2005 that led the London upset of favored Paris?
One prominent IOC member said that, “normally, you would hope public sentiment would be building as a candidate city approaches the final competition”. Chicago has the best of the four bids, I think it satisfies all the IOC requirements other than the financial guarantee, and that may be solved soon. It has a passionate and savvy Mayor, a dignified and eloquent bid leader in Pat Ryan, the support of Olympic and Paralympic athletes, a solid financial plan and it should be America’s turn.
But you can never guess where the IOC is concerned. I sense that the minds of its members are mostly already made up, and that Chicago must get past the first round. My gut tells me it will be Chicago and Rio in the last round.
A triumph by Chicago means countless blessings for the USOC and its programmes, and sports in our nation in general. The rewards are huge, but a loss would be a tremendous setback for the USOC and America’s impact on international sport. It all comes to us in less than a month, the perfect storm.
Mike Moran was the chief communications officer of the USOC for nearly 25 years before retiring in 2003. In 2002 he was awarded with the USOC's highest award, the General Douglas MacArthur Award. He worked on New York's unsuccessful bid to host the 2012 Olympics and is now director of communications for the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation. He writes a weekly column on sport that you can read here