Thursday, December 16, 1999

With year to go, Vehr's Olympic goal unwavering

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Nick Vehr got off easy. While Juan Antonio Samaranch was getting grilled Wednesday in Washington, Cincinnati's Olympic ringmaster was conducting a non-contact photo opportunity on Fourth Street.

        The timing was curious. The two events, however, were largely unrelated.

        Reforms enacted last week by the International Olympic Committee should have no immediate bearing on Cincinnati's long-shot pursuit of the Summer Games of 2012. All that really matters now is the qualifying heat — the race for the right to be designated as the United States bid city. Nick Vehr, true to his Notre Dame football training, has his eyes fixed on the appropriate goal line.

        So far as the Cincinnati 2012 people were concerned, Wednesday was significant because it fell one year before the deadline for submitting bid city proposals to the United States Olympic Committee. Samaranch's testimony before the House Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations — long awaited, long avoided — made for a big splash but not so many ripples.

        “My belief is that the reforms are good news for every American (bid) city,” Vehr said. “It serves to level the playing field.”

        Vehr's point is slightly self-serving, marginally jingoistic and conveniently overlooks the many ethical outrages committed in the name of Salt Lake City. But it is nonetheless founded on fact. If corruption can be eliminated from the bid competition — and that is an “If” the size of India — American bid cities are bound to benefit.

All about the money
        Most of the worldwide Olympic sponsors are multinational corporations based in the United States. A significant share of the IOC's revenue is derived from American television rights fees. Much as the crass commercialism of the 1996 Atlanta Games offended some IOC plutocrats, the Olympics survive because of American economic clout.

        If the IOC's reforms are embraced, the Olympic playing field won't be leveled so much as it will be tilted toward developed nations with deep pockets. Without bribery and graft, decisions might be made more often on the basis of facilities, financing, infrastructure and accommodations. Advantage, America.

        Yeah, bringing the Summer Games to Cincinnati still strikes a lot of people as lunacy. (Norwegians in Norwood. Film at 11.) Still, when you stop and consider the process and the domestic competition, the task doesn't seem nearly so daunting. Of the eight American cities still competing, none has all the answers at hand. All of them have drawbacks.

        Dallas is urban sprawl and drawling yuppies. Houston is heat. San Francisco is unstable, earthquakes notwithstanding. Los Angeles has been there, done that and is easily bored. Tampa is tourists. Washington is transients.

        New York City? Fuhgedabowdit.

Vehr's vision advances
        Cincinnati is Vehr's unwavering conviction, his tunnel vision and his ability to attract a growing army of diligent apostles. Joe Hale, chairman of Cincinnati 2012, said Wednesday that $3.2 million of the $4.5 million budgeted for Cincinnati's U.S. bid has been raised. Bid Development Chairman Bill Keating Sr. estimated that the bid preparation process is already 70 percent complete.

        “Nick Vehr was a voice in the wilderness when all of this started,” Keating said. “A lot of us thought, "What is he talking about?' But he kept pounding away with this vision.”

        Some of the same people who have volunteered to prepare Cincinnati's pitch still can't see from Vehr's vantage point. They don't think of their hometown as a world capital, an international gateway or a sporting Mecca. They think of Cincinnati and they instinctively think small.

        Yet Vehr's far-fetched idea continues to flourish. The city of Loveland is studying the feasibility of an indoor velodrome. The Dayton suburb of Moraine has staked a pre-emptive claim to women's fast-pitch softball. Wednesday, Vehr met with representatives of regional convention bureaus — all of them eager for a piece of his action.

        Vehr's dream has developed legs. It has yet to run its course.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at

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