Today has come and gone. October 2, 2009. The day of the vote for the host city of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
Congratulations to Rio de Janeiro, who will be the host - a first ever for South America.
I can't pretend I'm not disappointed.
Rio had just as much of a chance as anyone. I actually would argue that their odds of winning were better. As much as I supported Chicago's bid, I was realistic. Somewhere deep down, I knew it wouldn't be in the U.S., and that Rio would be the victor. It's funny how sometimes a gut feeling can be so right.
There are so many reasons why Chicago could have won. Obviously, there are even more reasons that it was theirs to lose. Personally I'd be interested to know what factors the International Olympic Committee voters took into account as the 97 of them voted in that first round. I'm sure the Chicago delegation feels the same way. Like a bad breakup. Was it something we said? Something we did? Just tell us...we'll fix it, we promise! Of course it doesn't work that way. It's over.
The vote actually takes place rather quickly. 97 countries represented in the IOC. Push a button. Vote. IOC President takes the floor. Chicago eliminated. Boom.
Immediately the vote goes to the second and third rounds, but not without the Chicago supporters left standing with their mouths open, wondering where we could have gone wrong. We were supposed to be in those rounds! Chicago! We were considered one of the front-runners, along with Rio, and it was supposed to be close! I even said that the other day: it'll be close. It wasn't close, not even a little bit.
There were speculations. Thoughts like, we just had the games in 1996, and in 2002, so it's someone else's turn. Or that somehow President and Mrs. Obama had some negative impact on Chicago's bid (when in reality, President Obama's involvement probably hurt him more than anything). Those more educated on the specifics of the Olympic Movement knew that it probably had more to do with the relationship the United States Olympic Committee had been testing with the IOC over the past few months. Maybe it was a little of all of those things. I doubt we'll ever really know, unless one of the IOC voters breaks his silence. Doubtful.
For me, I saw Chicago as a way for us to prove we could still host a games. A quality Olympic Games that could be respected, remembered. Games that left a good taste in your mouth. You might ask why that even would be an issue, what with our hosting summer games in 1984 and 1996, and winter games in 2002. Believe me - it is.
When Atlanta hosted the Centennial Olympic Games in 1996, it was supposed to be phenomenal. 100 years of Olympic greatness. We are America, and we could handle that. Never mind that we beat out Athens in the fifth and final round. Never mind that Athens had been going for a sentimental bid, since they had hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. We won, and we were going to prove we could be the best. And we weren't.
Everyone's familiar with the bombing in Centennial Olympic Park on July 27, 1996. A bomb went off, and someone died. Over 110 people were injured. But...Olympic spirit prevailed, and the Games continued. What you might not be familiar with is the reaction to the Atlanta games by then-IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch.
In Samaranch's 21 years as the President of the International Olympic Committee, in each closing ceremony he participated in, he would proclaim that each Olympic Games was "the best Olympic Games ever" - except in Atlanta. That's right. The Atlanta Games are the one Olympic Games in 20 years that Samaranch could not bring himself to pay such a high compliment. You can see it in this video of the 1996 closing ceremonies where he can only say that these games were "most exceptional." If you continue to watch (don't worry, I cut right to the chase, so it's not too long), you can hear the announcers covering the closing ceremonies mention that Samaranch did not call Atlanta the best games ever, as he had in the past. It stung.
So knowing this, 2002 would do so much better...right? Before we were even close to hosting in 2002, a long-time member of the IOC accused other members of the IOC of accepting bribes. Salt Lake City was right at the center of the allegations, which proved to be true. Another blemish.
I like to think Chicago could have overcome these issues. Chicago could have been our shining beacon, once again guiding other countries and the world's best athletes into the United States, into what may have been the best bid ever put together by a U.S. city. Chicago has some fantastic youth programs in place, for lesser known sports. Those (hopefully) will continue, despite the outcome of this vote.
I watched Chicago's presentation live, when I should have been sleeping. My passion for the Olympic Games overshadows many other things, and I had to see this. And even though I only watched Chicago, and not the other bids (because hey, I had to work in the morning), I liked what I heard.
One of the thoughts that stuck with me most was something said by Chicago 2016 Director of Sports and Operations, Doug Arnot: "We know that concrete and steel do not build sport. People build sport."
We often times lose sight of this. People are what the Olympic Movement is all about. Athletes. Spectactors. Dreamers. The Olympic Spirit lives on in each of us, no matter where the games are held and what politics might try to drag our spirits down.
So bring on Vancouver. London. Sochi. And now Rio.
It doesn't matter where the Olympic Games are held, just that they are held at all.