The United States has had the honor of hosting the Olympic Games, winter and summer, more than any other nation, a total of eight times, and that speaks volumes about America’s role in the rebirth of the Modern Games that began with Athens in 1896 and the power of American sport and business.
St. Louis was the first U.S. city to host the Olympic Games, in fact the longest Games in history, July 1, 1904 to November 23. Chicago originally was awarded the ’04 Games, but political forces in St. Louis, which was hosting the Louisiana Purchase Exposition during the same Olympic time frame that Chicago had planned applied pressure domestically and internationally to kill the Chicago triumph.
The exposition organization began to plan for its own sports activities, informing the Chicago Olympic Organizing Committee that its own international sports events intended to eclipse the Olympic Games unless they were moved to St. Louis. Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic movement, gave in and shifted the games to St. Louis.
Who knew then that this was not the last American drama involving an original award of the Games, but there are those very few who still remember that in 1973, Denver gave up the 1976 Winter Games and the IOC swiftly moved the Games to Innsbruck.
At a social event last weekend in New York, I ran into a prominent International sport figure, and when Denver was mentioned as a wonderful potential future host, rolled out an old thread, “He who was once bitten by a snake will be frightened at the sight of a coiled rope.”
The St. Louis Games proved to be just a sideshow to the Exposition, with only twelve countries on hand, and only a little over 100 of the 681 athletes participating were from outside of the U.S. and most of those were from Canada. No athletes represented England, France, or Sweden.
Historical references mention that the snub of the Games by the French Olympic Committee was a particular insult, since American athletes who journeyed to Paris in 1900 were instrumental in the success of the Games in the French city.
All that aside, America has hosted additional marvelous and history-making Games. In Lake Placid, the 1932 Winter Games and the 1980 Winter Games, which produced ice hockey’s unforgettable “Miracle On Ice” and five gold medals in speed skating by Eric Heiden.
Squaw Valley in the winter of 1960 with CBS paying a mere $50,000 for the television rights, Los Angeles in 1984, the Summer Games that may have saved the future of the movement and crafted the blueprint on how to conduct a Games with sponsor support, the Centennial Games in 1996 in Atlanta when the world thought they would be awarded to Athens for its role in the history of the Modern Games, and superb Winter Games in Salt Lake City in 2002, where America became an Olympic winter sports power to be reckoned with.
The most recent American bids were summarily rejected in the early voting by the IOC.
New York’s stylish, comprehensive and inspirational bid for the 2012 Games was tossed in the second round in 2005, right after Moscow was shown the door, and Chicago’s well-crafted plan was tossed under the bus in the first round of the voting for 2016, with Rio the eventual winner.
It can be said that relationships between the IOC and the USOC were somewhat strained at the time of both of those elections over the share of monies from U.S. television rights and worldwide sponsorships, but the fact remains that the IOC’s coffers were hugely enriched by those American television and sponsor dollars as never before.
The American Olympics in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Salt Lake easily covered their operating budgets and left a surplus that would advance sport for youth and the future. Each was, as well, an artistic success despite occasional whining by European journalists, who sniffed at what they perceived as overt commercialization and unsophisticated American fans who treated some of the events like the Final Four or the Super Bowl.
Now, with the IOC and USOC having reached a peaceful agreement on future revenue splits, mostly due to the long, tough and deliberate efforts by USOC Chairman Larry Probst and chief executive Scott Blackmun, the stage is set for a new American bid, and the USOC got off and running this week in full gear. Probst and Blackmun have, as a result of their intellectually brilliant and thoroughly diplomatic efforts, returned the United States to a position of respect and honor among the IOC family of nations.
Though the refined, genteel approach to international relations with the IOC by Probst and Blackmun differs dramatically from some past USOC leaders, this dynamic duo may have already had as much of an impact on the positioning of the USOC among the IOC family as the despotic Avery Brundage did as President of both the old American Olympic Association (1928-1948) and the IOC itself from 1952-1972.
Yesterday, the USOC sent letters from Colorado Springs, America’s Olympic City, to the Mayors of 35 cities in an effort to gauge honest interest in submitting a bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games in the summer of that year.
"Our objective in this process is to identify a partner city that can work with us to present a compelling bid to the IOC and that has the right alignment of political, business and community leadership," Blackmun said in the letter.
To be frank, past USOC programs that produced a candidate city were a hodge-podge of powerful influence by individuals in aspiring cities, a few mayors, celebrities, politicians, and drawn-out domestic hurdles that cost the cities uncounted millions and beat up the USOC image-wise by the losers.
Still chafing at the rejections of New York and Chicago, who spent a combined $120 million on their failed attempts, the USOC letter stated clearly that it was not guaranteeing that it will bid for the 2024 Games, and that the step was the first one to measure actual interest by any city in hosting the event.
Blackmun’s letter also outlined a lesson learned from the earlier failures by New York and Chicago, in terms that certainly will resonate well in Lausanne. American cities must recognize the fact that they would actually be bidding for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. London crowds for both Games were sensational, by the way.
“Now more than ever, we need to use the power of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to encourage our youth to be active and engaged in sport,” the letter says.
But the USOC letter was clear that there were certain requirements to consider – a Games budget in excess of $3 billion, 45,000 hotel rooms, an Olympic Village to house some 16,500 athletes and officials, a true international airport, a media venue for some 15,000 journalists and broadcasters, and as many as 200,000 volunteers and workers in a multitude of areas.
The USOC has time on its side.
It has not ruled out the possibility of a bid for the 2026 Olympic Winter Games, but what took place with the dispatches to the 35 cities indicates to me, and others, that it views the Summer Games as the plum to be plucked.
The USOC does not have to submit an application until 2015, giving the city it selects a full two years to present its international resume and plan before a vote in 2017 on the 2024 host.
The New York Times reports that the cities that received the letter were Phoenix; San Jose, Calif.; Los Angeles; Sacramento; San Diego; San Francisco; Denver; Washington; Jacksonville, Fla.; Orlando, Fla.; Miami; Atlanta; Chicago; Indianapolis; Baltimore; Detroit; Minneapolis; St. Louis; Las Vegas; New York; Boston; Rochester; Charlotte, N.C.; Columbus, Ohio; Tulsa, Okla.; Portland, Ore.; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Memphis; Nashville and Davidson County; Austin, Tex.; Dallas; Houston; San Antonio; and Seattle.
Of that group, you have the 25 largest American cities, along with ten others.
In recent times, Dallas, Washington, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Houston, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia were part of an actual USOC process (another was Cincinnati) in the looks at 2012 and 2016.
Though Chicago has said it is not interested, that remains to be seen, and there is tremendous strength for a Summer Games potential bid if New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Dallas want to begin to climb the stairs as well.
And, past snake bites aside, Denver could host the best Olympic Winter Games ever staged around the world with its location, beauty, venues and support.
It is abundantly clear that there are a majority of the 35 cities that simply could not meet the basic USOC requirements, but sending the letter is a positive sign that the USOC values support from across the nation in terms of its vastly-repaired image and its state-by-state fund-raising efforts.
At the same time, a majority of these cities send Olympians and Paralympians to the Games and have immense pride in their young men and women who represent those communities. It’s about feeling good and recognized by the most powerful National Olympic Committee in the world.
The IOC needs the United States to host an Olympic Games, and soon. They would reap huge reward.
The USOC needs an American Games, and soon. American sports and opportunities multiply dramatically.
This new relationship between the two leads me to believe that the steps to the altar and an exchange of vows could take place in 2017 when the 2024 Olympic Games are awarded.
It’s long past time and America deserves, and has earned, a ninth Olympic Games.
Mike Moran was the chief spokesman for the United States Olympic Committee from 1978-2003 and Games from Lake Placid to Salt Lake City. He served as the Sports Information Director at Nebraska-Omaha and Colorado, and has lived in Colorado Springs for 34 years and is the Senior Media Consultant for the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation and keynote speaker and emcee for numerous sports events. email@example.com