October 2, 2009 in Nation/World

Stunned silence in Chicago after failed Olympic bid

Peter Slevin and Kari Lydersen Washington Post
 

CHICAGO — The drama ended in stunned silence just as the party was supposed to start.

Thousands of believers in Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, many of them confidently waving signs that declared “It’s Gonna Happen,” listened aghast Friday morning as their hopes were suddenly dashed. Despite a high-profile effort that took three years, cost millions and united the city’s political and business leadership, the Second City lost in the first round.

“I’m very, very, very shocked and disappointed,” hotel worker Rachel Chambers said as she made her way from Daley Plaza after the International Olympic Committee’s announcement. “I’m sad, because we all got geeked up and excited and happy. We really wanted it.”

While IOC members cast their ballots and made their calculations in secret, Chicagoans were quick to speculate about the reasons for the defeat.

“I guess people are afraid to come to the U.S., with all the hassles with terrorists and the war,” said Irv Rolon, a construction worker in a hard hat, who had hoped to see his son compete in Chicago in 2016. “I’m surprised we’d go out, especially in the first round.”

Edward Santiago, an attorney, wondered whether the economic calamity and years of American unpopularity, beginning with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, played a role.

“The United States has been involved in a couple of wars and all kinds of political and economic problems. Some people blame us for the economic crisis,” said Santiago, who added, “I feel bad for the city because there was so much anticipation.”

Prominent Republicans in Washington had criticized President Obama for jetting to Copenhagen to address the IOC, while in Chicago, psychology graduate student Hunter Cox suggested, “Maybe Obama lobbied too hard and it hurt.”

“The Olympic committee was making a statement,” Cox said, “that they’re just not going to let Obama come in and have his way.”

Obama played an active role in the Olympic bid. The president, whose South Side home is three blocks from the park where the city would have built a temporary Olympic stadium, appeared in Chicago 2016 videos and sent letters, and he and his wife, Michelle, personally lobbied world leaders and IOC members.

A year ago, he predicted victory. Chicago was ranked third at the time, after an IOC review that put eventual winner Rio de Janeiro in fourth place. “Yes we can!” a crowd chanted, in honor of the Olympics bid and his presidential candidacy, which turned out rather better.

Although a Chicago Tribune/WGN poll in August showed that fewer than half of Chicagoans wanted the Olympics here, Mayor Richard M. Daley wrung a unanimous guarantee from the city council last month that the city would cover any cost overruns with taxpayer dollars.

The city’s business community united behind the bid, as did some of Obama’s closest friends and supporters. Presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett was the host committee’s vice chair before she left for the White House, her place taken by businessman and Obama friend Martin Nesbitt.

All for naught.

Construction worker Nick Kostelis’s instinct was to blame all-world basketball star Michael Jordan, a Chicagoan, for passing up a trip to Copenhagen.

Then again, Kostelis knows that defeat flows from fundamentals and alchemy alike. He is a Cubs fan. The Cubs last won the World Series in 1908.


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