Sunday, July 29, 2001

Olympic proposal difficult to score

City's reputation, flair can sway selection team

By Dan Klepal and James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In the end, the less-than-obvious factors might help decide whether Cincinnati gets the 2012 Olympics.

        Are the summers too hot? Is the skyline photogenic enough? Does this Midwestern city have the mentality — and will — to play host to an international event that's the equivalent of 10 Super Bowls a day for 17 days?

        Members of the U.S. Olympic Committee, in town last week to gauge the city's potential, were complimentary but unwilling to say how Cincinnati stacks up against the competition. The committee will pick one of eight American cities next year to compete against international contenders for the Games.

        Cincinnati showed off its Olympic plans for transportation, sports venues, an Olympic Village and funding. Officials also answered questions about racial tensions and efforts to end discord.

        But other factors, too, are sure to play a part.

Plans for riverfront makeover include Olympic Stadium at left.

Where Olympic events would be held
A look at Cincinnati's competition
        A Midwest Olympiad would be a rare sight for the world to see.

        The last Olympics in this part of the country were in 1904, when St. Louis played host to the Games in conjunction with a World's Fair.

        Atlanta organizers landed the 1996 Games, in part, by stressing that the Olympics had never been held in the American South. And Sydney officials made it clear in their effort to win the 2000 Games that Australia hadn't played host to an Olympics in more than 40 years.

        Charlie Moore, chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee site team that visited here, said Cincinnati's location does provide advantages. Cincinnati is within an eight-hour drive and a one-hour flight of about 60 percent of the U.S. population.

        “You start in a unique position,” Mr. Moore said. “We've heard many times that you are the "Gateway to America.' You have some advantage in that.”

        There are major reasons why the Midwest has been bypassed. The weather is notoriously hot, often humid. More importantly, the region is seen in some circles — particularly the jet-setting International Olympic Committee, which makes the final decision on which city gets the Olympics — as less than cosmopolitan.

        When Atlanta made its pitch, it presented itself as a thriving international city known for multinational business with a diverse ethnic mix, as a perfect example of the “New South” that was the home of the civil-rights movement.

        Cincinnati can match Atlanta as a thriving business community, with international companies such as Procter & Gamble and Chiquita, along with major U.S. corporations, such as Kroger and Federated department stores.

        But the city has never presented itself as having an international flair, preferring to rely on its hometown feel.

        “We think the Olympics want to come to a place where the Games will be seen as a monumental event in that city's history,” says Joe Hale, chairman of Cincinnati 2012.

        Cincinnati's bid stresses the hometown hospitality of the region, its spirit and heritage.

        Ed Hula, editor of the Olympics trade publication Around The Rings, says the hometown virtue probably won't play with the International Olympic Committee. Around The Rings has been publishing since 1991.

        “It's more of an international image issue than anything else,” Mr. Hula says. “The U.S. needs to sell a city that clearly has the capacity to do it, and is not an iffy proposition.

        “And that's what the (international committee) will be thinking: What city will sell?”

Massive undertaking

               Cincinnati is an experi enced host for professional and big-time collegiate sporting events.

        But the Olympics operate in a different universe, a feat that no city in the country is ready to handle, says A.D. Frazier, who was chief financial officer for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.

        Much consideration, then, is given to which city has the will to pull off the Games.

        Mr. Frazier says Atlanta's track and field stadium, which held 85,000 people, was filled and then emptied twice a day. It sat next to a baseball stadium that filled and emptied 45,000 people three times a day.

        “You must expect the scope and the impact of the Games to be horrific,” Mr. Frazier says. “Everything is going to be taxed beyond its natural capacity, and you'll never need that capacity for anything ever again.

        “How do you win the Games? You've got to want it awfully bad.”

TV timeout

               Television revenue makes the Olympics engine run. And the largest portion of that comes from U.S. networks — NBC paid $3.6 billion for the rights to broadcast five consecutive Olympics starting with the 2000 Sydney Games.

        And one thing the networks love is to show big-time events in prime time. Having a city in the eastern time zone of the United States is a definite plus, as seen in 1996. Many international Olympic insiders have said this was a major reason why Atlanta got the nod over Athens, Greece.

        But two of Cincinnati's domestic competitors, New York and Washington/Baltimore, also are in the Eastern time zone. So, too, is Toronto — the runner-up to Beijing for the 2008 Games that is expected to be a strong international contender for the 2012 Games.

        Ultimately, though, the U.S. Olympic Committee will select the best city, not the best time zone.

        “We have to (pick) the city we think has the very best chance to win the international competition,” Mr. Moore says.

Picture perfect

        Another intangible but important factor related to television is how a city looks. Network executives want a picturesque backdrop to provide a signature for the Games.

        Cincinnati has its own unique charm and architectural landmarks, but will be up against the likes of Tampa, Fla.'s beaches, San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, New York's skyline and Washington's many landmarks.

        Still, the Queen City made a positive impression on committee members last week.

        “We marveled at the wonderful Cincinnati skyline,” Mr. Moore said.

        Regardless of how Cincinnati stacks up on the issues, big and small, there is no quit in Cincinnati 2012 Inc., the team that has been working on its Olympic dream for six years.

        “We're not waiting around for much, we've got a contest to win here,” says Nick Vehr, president of the organization. “We're going to keep at it and sell, sell, sell.”

What readers say about Cincinnati's bid
Where Cincinnati stands on key Olympic topics

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