Nah, really? The Olympics? In Cincinnati?


BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Your reflex is to ridicule the idea.

The Olympics in Cincinnati? Right. Earth's most elaborate sporting spectacle will be held here about the same time Satan straps on ice skates. When hell is a hockey rink. When pigs fly.

It's preposterous, you huff. It's presumptuous, you sneer. Me, too. I was ready to dismiss the idea as dim-witted dreaming even before I knew it had been endorsed by His Wackiness, Charles Winburn.

This was hometown hubris of the highest order. This was Paducah posing as Paris. This was insane.

Cincinnati passes a sales tax referendum for two new stadia, and suddenly we've raised the bar of reality? Have Nick Vehr and his cronies on City Council counted our hotel rooms recently? Did someone uncover a stealth subway system? Cincinnati is no more equipped to stage the Summer Games than Cairo is the Giant Slalom.

On this narrow point, Don Schumacher agrees. But the executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Sports & Events Commission is thinking on a much broader scale. He envisions an Olympics that would encompass Indianapolis and Columbus and Dayton and Lexington and Louisville - a regional Games that would require relatively little new construction.

It could happen this way

Darn if that might not be doable.

"If you allow yourself to step into the dream," Vehr said Wednesday, "the dream becomes real."

"If it were Cincinnati alone, it would be a very bad idea - foolish," said Schumacher. "And we shouldn't do any such thing. We have to go further beyond the Tristate. If you do that - if you're going to utilize existing facilities - you can do it with less cost. You would think there would be profit to somebody."

The Olympics leave a lasting mark on a community, but often a big dent in its coffers. As construction costs escalate, the necessity of building new structures for a single fortnight of sports grow increasingly difficult to justify.

Peter Ueberroth turned a $250 million profit in Los Angeles in 1984, and the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games projects a $13 million surplus for this summer. But beyond America's corporate-sponsored shores, the Games tend to be burdensome. Montreal lost $1 billion on the Summer Games of 1976.

Herein lies the local advantage. Within 120 miles of Fountain Square stand suitable facilities for nearly the entire Olympic program. By the year 2000, this region will contain no fewer than eight substantial stadia, 10 major arenas, Olympic-caliber facilities for cycling, diving, equestrian sports, rowing, swimming and tennis. To say nothing of Western Bowl.

Should one of Cincinnati's new stadia be designed so it could be adapted for track and field - Atlanta's Olympic Stadium will be converted for the Braves - the need for new concrete could be largely confined to housing.

Here's the problem

The bigger problems are political. Canadian Dick Pound, who chairs the International Olympic Committee's Coordination Committee for the Atlanta Games, insists the Olympics will never again be awarded without a public-sector commitment guaranteeing "the necessary costs of organizing the Games."

If taxpayers are expected to underwrite future Games, United States Olympic Committee spokesman Mike Moran wonders if any American city (or region) would be able to bid.

"The opportunity for this country to host Olympic Games in the future could be in danger," Moran said.

Surely it can't be that bleak. The United States carries too much weight in the Olympic movement to be casually pushed aside.

How much weight Cincinnati carries is still being calculated. The planning is so preliminary that Dale Neuburger, president of the Indiana Sports Corporation, said Wednesday that he has yet to be contacted about Indy's interest.

"This thing's got miles and miles to go," Schumacher said. "As sure that I am that this is a subject worthy of our attention, there are 1,000 ways in which we could be convinced not to proceed. It will take several months to figure out whether this coalition could be pulled together. But if it could be, we could be a serious competitor."

Laugh if you like. I've stopped.

Published April 25,1996.