Thursday, April 24, 1997
Olympic bid not as crazy
as it seemed

The Cincinnati Enquirer

We would like to report that Nick Vehr's check is in the mail, but technically that is not true. Cincinnati's earnest money for the 2008 Olympic Games was transferred to the United States Olympic Committee by wire.

''I went to the bank yesterday and waved goodbye to the money,'' Vehr said Wednesday afternoon. ''We paid the $100,000 and we're in.''

The slow, formal process of pursuing the USOC's blessing to bid on the 29th Summer Games begins with the serious players putting their money where their mouths have been. A week before the May 1 deadline, Cincinnati, Houston and Seattle have already anted up.

There will undoubtedly be others. At least seven U.S. cities are seriously studying the feasibility of holding the 2008 Games, and several of them are actively engaged in raising the funds necessary to proceed. Though the 2008 Games will likely be held on some other continent, organizers are eager to stake a claim to the next Games to be staged on American soil.

The race starts here. Where and when it will end is sheer speculation. The Games are bound to return to America on a regular basis because of its economic clout and political stability, but that might mean 2012 or 2016.

It's a long haul, any way you look at it.

''He who doesn't go after it will not get it,'' said John Kelley, president of the Houston International Sports Committee. ''It's like your first date - if you don't ask for it you're not going to get it. And it's probably better if you have a nice car. I'm saying the city of Houston is a nice car. We're a limousine.''

Houston is 'real serious'

If Houston is a limousine, its paint job is day-glo orange. It is unchecked urban sprawl, garish and noisy and oppressively hot, but you have to envy its energy. John Kelley is Mary Lou Retton's father-in-law, and he approaches his task with the same cereal-box enthusiasm.

''All I know is we're real serious,'' he said Wednesday. ''This is not a marble game. It's like the second World War. You'd better have plenty of money, and we've got about $3 billion behind our deal.''

Perhaps this is typical Texas bluster, but Houston has gotten into the game aggressively while such cities as San Francisco and Washington continue to search for financing. The initial $100,000, of course, is just the opening outlay. Vehr projects the U.S. bid process will cost each city close to $2 million. As the stakes approach seven digits, some cities are sure to fold.

''I'm surprised,'' said David Syferd, president of the Seattle Bid Committee, ''that the field appears to be as crowded as it is.''

Never before have there been so many suitors for the U.S. bid. Never before has the USOC been so bold as to require a non-refundable $100,000 payment to consider a city's candidacy.

USOC spokesman Mike Moran attributes the unprecedented demand to ''the fantastic public infatuation with the Olympic Games.'' Local organizers, more pragmatic, look at the profits of Los Angeles and the construction legacy of Atlanta and see the opportunity of a lifetime.

Change of heart

Cincinnati attorney Richard Katz, a member of the USOC Board of Directors, was initially dubious of Nick Vehr's vision. But Katz said Wednesday he is now starting to see ''some steam behind it.''

So, too, does Seattle's Syferd.

''I always thought Cincinnati was our most formidable U.S. competition,'' he said.

Really? Wow.

''I initially thought it was improbable,'' Katz said. ''But since it's gone on, I think they've developed a pretty good group and a pretty good plan.

''In my opinion, they can't present it as a Cincinnati Games. they have to present it as the Greater Cincinnati area and incorporate other cities (Columbus, Dayton, Indianapolis, Louisville and Lexington). I think that makes more sense.''

That it makes any sense at all is remarkable. It wasn't so long ago that Nick Vehr was considered a crackpot, prattling on about this wacky scheme to put Cincinnati on the world stage.

The idea remains outlandish, but the Cincinnati crackpot has raised enough cash to pursue it. Some day we may see him as a visionary.