Nick Vehr's crazy dream gets a little more doable every day. Pretty soon, we may have to start taking him seriously.
Cincinnati's one-man Olympic organizing committee is engaged in a high-stakes poker game in pursuit of the 2008 Summer Games, and he has yet to flinch at the raises. The United States Olympic Committee wants $100,000 by May 1 from those cities that presume to pursue the 2008 Summer Games. This sum represents only the earnest money in a bid process that could cost close to $10 million by the time the Games are awarded.
Chicago, the City of the Big Shoulders, has already folded. Cincinnati, the City of the Big Inferiority Complex, is still in the game.
Five American cities - Cincinnati, Houston, New York, Seattle and Washington, D.C. - are expected to submit formal applications for the 2008 Games. Other contenders may yet emerge. But time grows short before the USOC deadline, and the field grows narrow. Nick Vehr's odds are still long, but they are surely improving.
''It's not surprising,'' Vehr said of the attrition among potential bidders. ''And absolutely it encourages me. ... We have the money for the $100,000. Our board still has to meet and consider a lot of information before it makes a decision. I don't want to prejudge that at all. But I'm confident that our board will see the value in moving forward.''
Odds keep improving
Those who couldn't see the value in Vehr's campaign before can hardly miss it now. Simple math says the smaller the field, the better Cincinnati's chances of landing the U.S. bid for 2008. History tells you that once a city is awarded the U.S. bid, it can retain that exclusive right for two tries at the Games. (See Anchorage, Salt Lake City.)
Olympic officials have been pessimistic about the prospects of a U.S. bid for 2008, citing the fallout from last year's Summer Games in Atlanta, and the International Olympic Committee's mandate to move the event to other parts of the planet.
''I think the chances (for 2008) are pretty slim,'' says Dick Schultz, the USOC's executive director.
Yet 2012 is a different matter, and a reasonable timetable for the Games to return to American soil. It's a long haul, to be sure, but it's a mighty big prize.
''We were involved for 10 years,'' said Gerald Bartels, former president of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. ''You've got to have staying power and commitment. It you don't have that, you might as well hang it up.''
When Billy Payne first decided to chase the Games for Atlanta, his grand vision was generally looked on as lunacy. Payne's success made Nick Vehr's plans seem slightly more plausible, and each new development has served to subdue skepticism.
Facilities on our side
The Cincinnati Summer Games may still be a shot in the dark, but daylight savings time is upon us. If Baltimore and Boston have bowed out, as Olympic officials believe, the serious players can probably be counted on one hand.
New York has the numbers. Washington has the prestige. Houston has heat. Seattle has scenery. Cincinnati has Nick Vehr's conviction, and a region teeming with available venues.
''I actually think the heavy hitters are going to be those cities that are manageable,'' Vehr said, ''those cities that are rich in facilities, that have demonstrated a willingness of the city to come together for big projects and can demonstrate a commitment to youth development.''
Atlanta got the 1996 Games primarily because of Billy Payne's persistence.
''One of the first places he came, if not the first place, was the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce,'' Bartels said. ''We liked the idea, but we didn't have much in the way of resources to chase after this wild dream that nobody thought possible.''
Ultimately, the Atlanta Chamber appropriated $20,000 to help prepare Payne's bid package. It was, it turned out, money wonderfully well spent.
''It would probably be worth it, even if you lost,'' Bartels said, ''because of all the attention and the good press that you'd get and the fact that people would say, 'That city has a lot of spunk, a lot of initiative. They know what they want to do.' I would say go for it.''
OLYMPIC TORCH STILL BURNING FOR CITY