Saturday, September 22, 2001

2012 Olympics: Talk of bids seems 'shallow'

By Tim Sullivan
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Nick Vehr caught himself in mid-sentence. Testifying before the Ohio Senate Tuesday, Cincinnati's Olympic ringmaster was reciting from his stock stump speech when he referred to the city as “Ground Zero” for the 2012 Summer Games.

        Vehr had used the phrase at least a hundred times, maybe a thousand, so often it had become a rhetorical reflex. But this time the words had barely left his lips before he ached to eat them. The connotation of “Ground Zero” changed forever when the World Trade Center collapsed.

        “I was in the zone,” Vehr said Friday. “I wasn't thinking about it. But as soon as I said it, I apologized. I knew I could never say that again.”

        Eleven days after terrorists mauled the Manhattan skyline, the full impact cannot be felt, only estimated. None of us yet know how much the event will affect our lives, except that it will be profoundly.

        For Nick Vehr, and his Quixotic quest to land the Olympics, the subject is too sensitive even for speculation.

        Field narrows Oct.26

New York is one of seven American cities competing with Cincinnati to represent the United States in bidding for the 2012 Summer Games. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, Rome mayor Walter Veltroni suggested other candidate cities (his own included) ought to capitulate should New York win the USOC primary.

        Because of its size, its stature and the likelihood of an emotionally charged landslide, New York is almost certain to survive the United States Olympic Committee's first round of cuts for 2012, to be announced Oct. 26 in Salt Lake City. The same might be said of the other terrorist target, Washington, D.C.

        Cincinnati, presumably, is a closer call.

        Vehr, therefore, is in the delicate position of wanting to offer New York condolences, but not concessions. None of the U.S. candidate cities has withdrawn in the wake of New York's trauma, and none is likely to drop out after years of effort and millions in expenses.

        They're like participants in a high-stakes poker game who have all matched the last raise. They want to see who's holding the best hand and who's been bluffing.

        “Nobody on the face of the earth wants to say a single thing that can show an insensitivity to the tragedies in New York and Washington,” Vehr said. “(But) When life gets back to normal, I've never known a proud New Yorker who wanted a handout from anybody.”

        NY's priorities changed

Short-term, sentiment is sure to enhance New York's bid. Long-term, however, fresh logistical concerns could compromise it. Already, proposed ballparks have lost priority at City Hall. Eventually, the USOC must weigh the symbolic value of staging the games in New York against the relative security risk.

        Vehr has been told between three and five cities will survive the Salt Lake roster cut. He would prefer not to handicap the race.

        “I find it shallow to talk about the Olympics in New York or anywhere right now,” Vehr said. “It just seems inappropriate with five or six thousand bodies still in the rubble.”

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456; fax: 768-8550; e-mail: Cincinnati.Com keyword: Sullivan.


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