Commentary

Flame out

Windy City blown away with failed 2016 bid, but some proposals shouldn't die

Originally Published: October 2, 2009
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- At exactly 10:24 a.m. local time, a stuffed shirt named Jacques Rogge announced in faraway Copenhagen that Chee-ca-go -- that's how it sounded over the loudspeakers at Daley Plaza -- "will not participate in the next round."

[+] EnlargeJacques Rogge
John Gichigi/Getty ImagesJacques Rogge put a quick end to the party at Daley Plaza.

Huh? Not participate in what? You mean not participate in the next round of voting as a candidate city for the 2016 Olympics? Hel-looooo -- this is Obama/Oprahland, not Tokyo. We're supposed to win this thing, remember?

Nope. Chicago was the first to go. You could hear an actual gasp from the thousands who assembled under cloudy, dark skies (an omen?) at the Daley Plaza on Friday morning. And then silence. It was so quiet after the International Olympic Committee president's announcement that you could hear a jaw drop.

Just like that, preballot co-favorite Chicago was eliminated in the first round of IOC voting. And just like that, a planned celebration rally became a triage center for open mouths, misty eyes and stunned looks.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, wearing a tan trench coat and a frown, shook his head in disbelief as he walked through the stunned crowd.

"It's just a shocker," Jackson said.

Sen. Roland Burris of Illinois stood near the metal stage and said, "I am terribly disappointed."

Three-time Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines, who had flown in the night before to emcee the Friday rally, found himself holding a microphone, but with nothing to say.

"I'm at a loss for words," said Gaines, who used to spend his summers living with his father just three blocks from Wrigley Field. "That usually doesn't happen to me. ... It's just total shock."

So much for the celebration. Gaines was catching a 3 o'clock flight back to his Florida home. A band, there to play at the rally, already had its instruments packed in their cases. Nobody was in a mood for music, unless it was "Taps."

Anyway, let me get this straight: Atlanta can get an Olympics, but Chicago can't make it past the first round of voting? A place called Sochi (be honest, you can't pick it out on a map, even if I told you it's in Russia) gets the 2014 Winter Games, but Chicago strikes out on one pitch?

"We sent our A-Team: the president [Barack Obama], his wife [Michelle Obama], Oprah Winfrey, the Olympic athletes, the mayor [Richard Daley]," Jackson said of the Chicago Olympic delegation that traveled to Copenhagen. "We sent our A-Team. It will be interesting to know what happened."

The two Obamas. Oprah. David Robinson. Daley. That's a pretty impressive starting five for schmoozing. And guess what? It didn't matter. Elimination and humiliation took just two minutes.

Rogge commenced the voting at 10:22 CT. He ended it at 10:23. He announced the results at 10:24. The death of a rally arrived moments later.

"Last week, they said the first round would be kind of tricky," Gaines said, "because everybody is kind of voting for their own region. And North America doesn't have as many representatives as the other regions around the world. So that was going to be the trickiest part to get by that first round."

How weird. A half hour earlier, Daley Plaza had a Mardi Gras feel to it. I saw a woman, her face painted in silver, dressed as the Statue of Liberty, complete with an aluminum foil torch filled with U.S. and Chicago 2016 flags.

I saw Scottie Pippen, the former Dream Teamer and Chicago Bulls star, wearing his Chicago Olympics Committee-issued baseball cap.

I saw people waving signs that read, "Oprah Should Get To Light The Torch."

[+] EnlargeChicago
Jim Prisching/Getty Images for Chicago 2016You could have heard a jaw drop at Daley Plaza when Chicago was eliminated.

I saw people waving the same Cubs-inspired placards seen at Wrigley in recent years: the famed "W" (for Win), as well as the less-famous "It's Gonna Happen" slogan. After all, it's not like Cubs fans need the signs these days.

As it turned out, nothing happened. Chicago got another L, not a W.

Even the five-story-tall Picasso sculpture in the plaza was wearing the wrong jewelry for the occasion. City officials had strung a giant Olympic medal around its neck. Cute, except that they award medals only to the top three finishers of an Olympic sporting event. Chicago went oh-fer gold, silver and bronze.

Instead, Rio de Janeiro will be the 2016 host city. Madrid finished second, Tokyo third and Chicago fourth. And the last time I saw one of those Oprah signs, it was floating on top of a rain puddle on Madison Street.

So what happened with the vote? Was it anti-USA backlash? Was Rio's bid that much better than Chicago's? Was there, as one local TV anchor ditzily suggested, a mistake in the IOC members' voting?

Don't know. Don't care.

I do know a lot of good people spent a lot of time (almost 2½ years preparing for the IOC bid) and a lot of money (nearly $49 million) constructing the Chicago proposal. And in 60 seconds a secret vote by 94 of those IOC members made fools of every ringhead expert who predicted a Rio-Chicago final.

Whatever. If Chicago can survive Al Capone, the Black Sox, the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Cade McNown at quarterback, The Bartman Game and Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame speech, it can survive anything, including a snub from the predominantly Euroweenie IOC. Chicago was a great city before the vote; it remains so after the vote.

This isn't the end. Chicago can romance the IOC again.

"My opinion is Chicago should go for 2020," Gaines said. "I think the U.S. or North America would have the best chance."

Maybe. But at the very least, Chicago should follow through on at least a few of those Olympic bid proposals.

"Absolutely," Burris said. "We must go forward with our educational programs. We must go forward improving our parks. We must go forward in getting our young people involved in athletics and in sports. So let's build on this dream of getting the Olympics. And let's have our own Chicago Olympics."

I'll vote for that.

Gene Wojciechowski is a columnist for ESPN.com.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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