Wednesday, July 6, 2005
French fried over Olympics
By Jim Caple Page 2
PARIS -- The world grows smaller every day, but the French -- God bless 'em -- remain the French.
Last month, they voted down the European constitution. They sell everything in euros, but the receipts they give you still tell you what the price would have been in French francs. And during Tuesday's stage of the Tour de France, I saw a French poodle wearing underpants.
The past 24 hours, however, have been difficult for the French. It started Tuesday when Lance Armstrong, the cyclist they would love to catch using drugs if only he didn't stubbornly keep passing all his tests, put on the yellow jersey once again by winning the fourth stage of the Tour. But at least they're used to Armstrong -- not only an American, but a Texan to boot -- winning the Tour.
What happened Wednesday was worse.
Paris lost its bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
And worst of all, it lost to London.
You know it's time to roll up the red carpet when the Paris party ends before it starts.
"France is very disgusted," said Remy Diallo on the Champs Elysees. "I'm from West Africa, but it's all everyone I met today was talking about. They thought they had it won in advance. But nothing is guaranteed. It was a big disappointment. You can look at the people's faces and see it. It's one big defeat.
"And it was especially hard because it was Great Britain that won."
There might be a tunnel linking their countries now, but the French and the English remain rivals with an intensity like Boston and New York, only without the "Jeter Sucks" T-shirts. It was bad enough when English replaced French as the international language, or that France needed England and America to bail it out of the past two world wars.
But to lose the Olympic bid to London? That is too much.
Just imagine what the English Olympic mascot is going to look like.
Until a month ago, Paris had been the clear favorite to win the bid. It had a strong campaign, and there were rumors that International Olympic Committee voters had it in for the Americans and their New York City bid. Paris spent plenty of money on its bid and plastered 2012 posters all around the City of Light as well as the towns along the Tour de France route.
Things began falling apart in recent weeks, while London -- hated London -- built momentum. As it became clear that London might win the bid, the rhetoric between the two countries soared. Last week, French President Jacques Chirac even said that the only contribution the English have made to European agriculture is mad cow disease.
And then he took the path of least resistance with a shot at British cuisine.
"You can't trust people who cook as badly as that," Chirac reportedly said.
Sure, London's bid might have included plans for renovating a downtrodden area of the city and improving the dirty, aging and breakdown-prone subway system, and England hasn't hosted an Olympics since 1948. But dammit, at least the French know how to put something besides fish and chips in their concession stands.
The mad cow quote was funny, but a low blow that probably didn't help Paris. British Prime Minister Tony Blair's personal lobbying -- he flew to Singapore for the vote even though he had to leave immediately after to get back to Scotland for the G8 Summit -- also was a factor.
What killed Paris in the end, however, was probably New York's inability to get approval for its planned West Side stadium. Voters who had been in New York's corner likely switched their votes to London, at the expense of Paris.
Oh well. The French will manage this the same way they always do: by turning up their noses and ignoring it. Which is probably the right attitude. After all, there are likely just as many people relieved that their city won't have to deal with the Olympics hassle as there are citizens disappointed in Wednesday's IOC vote.
"I'm not in favor or against," said an engineering student who identified himself as Anwar. "I'm happy that it went to a city in Europe. But what I really want is for a country in Africa to get the Olympics. North Africa countries like Morocco or Tunisia could afford it."
So let London deal with the cost, construction, taxes and disruption of the Olympics. Paris will uncork a bottle of champagne along the banks of the Seine and gaze at Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, and then wander to its Musee d'Orsay and the Louvre.
London might have the Olympics for three short weeks in seven long years, but the French will always have Paris.
Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," is on sale now at bookstores nationwide. It also can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.