COPENHAGEN – Finally, South America gets an Olympics. The 2016 Games are going to Rio de Janeiro.
In a vote of high drama, the bustling Brazilian carnival city of beaches, mountains and samba beat surprise finalist Madrid, which got a big helping hand from a very influential friend.
Chicago was knocked out in the first round — in one of the most shocking defeats ever in International Olympic Committee voting. Even Tokyo, which had trailed throughout the race, did better — eliminated after Chicago in the second round.
Rio spoke to IOC members’ consciences: the city argued that it was simply unfair that South America has never hosted the games, while Europe, Asia and North America have done so repeatedly.
“It is a time to address this imbalance,” Brazil’s charismatic president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, told the IOC’s members before they voted. “It is time to light the Olympic cauldron in a tropical country.”
The bearded former union leader disappeared into a huge group hug with the joyous Rio team after IOC president Jacques Rogge announced that the city won. Football great Pele had tears in his eyes.
Madrid’s surprising success in reaching the final round came after former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch made an unusual appeal for the Spanish capital, reminding the IOC’s members as he asked for their vote that, at age 89, “I am very near the end of my time.”
Samaranch ran the IOC for 21 years before Rogge took over in 2001.
Chicago had long been seen as a front-runner and got the highest possible level of support — from President Barack Obama himself. But he only spent a few hours in the Danish capital where the vote was held and left before the result was announced. Former IOC member Kai Holm said that the brevity of his appearance may have counted against him.
The short stopover was “too business-like,” Holm said. “It can be that some IOC members see it as a lack of respect.”
Senior Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper surmised that Asian voters may have banded together for Tokyo in the first round, at Chicago’s expense.
“I’m shocked,” Gosper said. “The whole thing doesn’t make sense other than there has been a stupid bloc vote.”
He worried that the shock exit could do “untold damage” to the already testy relations between the IOC and the U.S. Olympic Committee. They had recent flare-ups over revenue sharing and a USOC TV network.
“To have the president of the United States and his wife personally appear, then this should happen in the first round is awful and totally undeserving,” Gosper said.
The European-dominated IOC’s last two experiences in the United States were marked by controversy: the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics were sullied by a bribery scandal and logistical problems and a bombing hit the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
Obama had held out the enticing prospect of a Chicago games helping to reconnect the United States with the world after the presidency of George W. Bush. He told the IOC earlier Friday that the “full force of the White House” would be applied so “visitors from all around the world feel welcome and will come away with a sense of the incredible diversity of the American people.”
Now, Chicago can only rue what might have been. And Obama’s gamble of expending his own political capital on the bid backfired.
The last U.S. city to bid for the Summer Games, New York, did scarcely better. It was ousted in the second round in the 2005 vote that gave the 2012 Games to London.
Tokyo did better than many expected by reaching the second round. It had offered reassurances of financial security, with $4 billion already banked for the games.
But the fact that the Olympics were held only last year in Asia, in Beijing, handicapped the Japanese capital’s bid.
Its plans for a highly compact games, sparing athletes tiring travel by holding all but the shooting within 5 miles of the city center, were technically appealing. But the bid failed to generate real enthusiasm, even in Japan. Tokyo had the lowest public backing in IOC polls.
Tokyo’s final presentation Friday to the IOC, while smooth and heartfelt, lacked the buzz that the Obamas and Rio generated. In short, Tokyo was simply overshadowed, failing to convince IOC members that it really wanted or needed the games.
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