Olympic musings: Obama’s role in 2016 summer bid, and will Minnesotans shine in Vancouver?

CHICAGO — Back in the sleepy Twin Cities, the focus was on Barack Obama and that nagging health care issue. But here in the Windy City, the frenetic question on some people’s mind was: Will the president from Chicago go to Copenhagen next month so his fair city will get the chance to spend $5 billion to play host to the 2016 Summer Olympics?

Chicago — or at least its media, political leaders and some corporate moguls — remain in a swirl today over the possibility of the 2016 Olympics. The nation’s Olympic journalists — including yours truly — happened to be here for a few days last week as part of the build-up to the 2010 Winter Olympics, which are, incredibly, about 150 days away in Vancouver. More on them later.

But as Target Center rocked for Obama’s health care rally, word came that he likely won’t be attending a critical International Olympic Committee meeting in Denmark next month. Sorry gymnasts, sprinters and swimmers. You’re second fiddle.

Instead, the White House said, Michelle Obama would lead the U.S. delegation to the IOC’s decisive meeting on whether Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid or Tokyo get those Olympics. Seems the national leaders of other nations are going to be in attendance to lobby the ascotted kings and queens of the Olympics. But, the White House said, “President Obama informed IOC President Count Jacques Rogge … that the fight to pass health insurance reform keeps him from committing at this time” to going to Copenhagen.

Sheesh, talk about priorities.

Still, the Chicago Tribune, apparently hopeful an Olympics will boost its flagging circulation, used a well-known Chicago sports finance expert to speculate that it’s all a ruse and the president will, indeed, be in Copenhagen, health care battle on our shores or not.

“This is a great strategy to generate much more interest and to have a much greater entrance,” said sports industry expert Marc Ganis, president of SportsCorp Ltd. “His wife can go and represent him. And watch, Barack will show up almost unannounced, for a couple hours. He’ll give his commitment, look IOC members in the eye and say, ‘I want your vote.’ The same day he’ll be back on Air Force One and back in Washington. This is a wonderful David Axelrod moment.”

The notion is that political adviser guru Axelrod is planning such a deke to the IOC that will help Obama deliver the Games to his hometown. And, to a small extent to the Twin Cities. If Chicago gets the Olympics, TCF Bank Stadium, which opened last Saturday, is on tap to host some preliminary soccer games.

Still, the main topic was the upcoming Winter Games, which are a smaller, quainter, whiter, less international version of the Summer Olympics. It got a guy to thinking:

• Could Minnesota ever host a Winter Olympics? We know we’re not big enough or rich enough or have solid enough public transportation to host a Summer Olympics. But there’s increasing interest in seeing two communities share a Winter Games. Reno and Lake Tahoe, for instance, are thinking about bidding for 2018 or 2022. Could we host the arena, cross-country skiing and curling and have Montana do the mountain events? Just a wild thought.

• At the very least, the Twin Cities should be able to play host to some Olympic trials. The women’s Olympic hockey team is returning to Blaine today to be in residence, and that’s neat. But couldn’t the St. Paul Curling Club host the curling trials? Or Mariucci Arena host the short-track speedskating trials? Or the U.S. Olympic wrestling trials? They’d be good events to embrace.

• Can that U.S. women’s ice hockey team, with a bunch of Minnesota Gophers and Minnesota natives, win a gold medal? Can they knock off host Canada?

• Will White Bear Lake’s Tony Benshoof bounce back from missing a luge bronze medal in 2006 in Torinto by 0.153 of a second? The 34-year-old has bounced back from back surgery to keep on keeping on. He’s a working-class Olympian worth rooting for.

• Will Lindsey Vonn, once of Burnsville and the reigning world champion Alpine skier, become the American star of the Games?

• Can it be that one of the most popular and watched events of the Vancouver Games will be curling, which is second only to hockey as the national sport of Canada. Both the men’s and women’s U.S. curling teams are dominated by Minnesotans.

• Vancouver will be my eighth Winter Olympics. Big-city Winter Games, such as Vancouver, don’t excite me the way the village Winter Olympics — as in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994 — did. Winter Games seem to belong in mountaintop burgs, not metropolises. But Summer Games, they are big, honking world events. They need the world’s greatest cities to contain them, cities like Chicago, cities that catapult men to the presidency, men who keep their priorities straight.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Robert Jacobs on 09/14/2009 - 03:53 pm.

    Jay Weiner states as a fact that “We know we’re not big enough or rich enough or have solid enough public transportation to host a Summer Olympics.”

    This is simply not supportable by any reasonable analysis. Atlanta had a metro population of 3.5 million when they hosted the Games in 1996. We’re currently around 3 million. With projected population growth, we’d be about the same size by any reasonable time we’d be a candidate to host the Games. Athens and Sydney had populations of around 4 million when they hosted—not significantly bigger. Smaller cities have hosted the Games.

    In terms of business wealth to support the Olympics, Georgia has 13 Fortune 500 companies. We’ve got 19 in Minnesota. Illinois has more, 33, but they don’t dwarf us. And all but one of ours are in the metro area. If looking at just metro areas, Chicago has around 2 dozen. We’re rich enough.

    In terms of transportation, Weiner seems to be equating high capacity rail with total system capacity. Not the same.

    There are two major transportation challenges: Athletes, coaches and officials in one group and then spectators and the press.

    Traditionally, athletes travel by dedicated bus, not on mass transit with everyone else. This generally creates gridlock in most cities as they dedicate official “Olympic Lanes” for these designated buses. This would be a minor issue for us. We’ve already got 250 miles of dedicated bus shoulder lanes in the metro area, plus the U of M Transitway, dedicated to bus service. We have what is probably the best bus transit system for Olympians of any city in the world.

    In terms of transit capacity for spectators, we have the most efficient layout possible. While we don’t have as much total rail capacity as some cities, what we have or will have is perfectly laid out for hosting an Olympic effort. The Central Corridor LRT line and the proposed Red Rock Commuter Rail Line both go through the same areas: Downtown Minneapolis, the U of M, the Midway area and downtown St. Paul. These same areas are served by I-94, which would carry spectator bus service. These are the same areas our current and future sports venues would be clustered. No city would have a more elegant or simple Olympic transit plan.

    We have a lot of unique advantages in presenting a bid. These are just a sampling of them.

    While one can reasonably debate whether a Minneapolis-Saint Paul effort could win an Olympic bid, the reasons Mr. Weiner gave as disqualifiers don’t hold up.

  2. Submitted by John Jarvis on 09/15/2009 - 11:02 am.

    Haven’t you hear about Ely’s bid for the 2016 Summer Games? You gotta believe.

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