The London Olympic stadium, three years later, photo by PhotoRun.net
Here are my thoughts on the demise of the Boston 2024 bid….
Reflections on the demise of Boston 2024
The writing was on the wall for sometime. The Boston 2024 bid was a bid
in name only. Without the support of the majority of Bostonians, the bid
was going to fail. While some may give the Mayor of Boston grief for not
signing the final documents, he is, after all a politician. The Mayor
of Boston read his constituency well.
In late December, I was in Boston, as I always am around the holidays.
Speaking to a die hard Bostonian, and a person of some sporting intelligence,
I listened closely to what he said: “Boston is a sports city.”
Boston is a sports city. The Bruins, the Red Sox, the Patriots, and, in
my world, one of the true sanctuaries of indoor track & field. The
Reggie Lewis Center, that positive sanctuary of athletics, hosts over
65 events and 100,000 plus junior high, high school and elite athletes
The Boston Marathon is the most iconic marathon in the world. Some
may have more money, some may have better fields, but NO ONE has
the feel and excitement of Boston. My own personal experience is
telling: I ran 17 marathons in my racing career, it took me 14 marathons
to get under two hours, fifty minutes and qualify for my then age
group. My races at Boston and NYC came after a weekend of working
at expos. The experiences were still telling, and thirty years later,
I still feel the chills.
Yet, dear reader, the Olympics is much more than that. The sport, alas
the center of the focus of fans, is tertiary to the Olympic fathers. The
IOC sees the Olympic movement as a near religion. They have drank the
kool-aid: the Olympic movement can change the world. And in some ways,
they are correct. For those 18 days, the world seems to be a bit
better place: whether your team plays well in field hockey, or that hammer
thrower from your hometown makes the final, it is good.
London 2012 was a case in point. In the bidding process, Paris was clearly
in the lead. They made a few errors, one was expecting to win. But, in fact,
the night before the vote, they were still in the lead.
What they did not know was this: In one perfect storm, Tony Blair, then, Prime
Minister, and Seb Coe, leader of London 2012 became unlikely bed fellows. For the
last twenty-four hours, Tony Blair did one thing: he met, looked into people’s
eyes, pulled what we in the former colonies call the “Bill Clinton” : Blair made
it clear that the hundred plus dignitaries he met were the ONLY people in the
house, and that the Government loved the London bid and would make it work.
Blair’s and Coe’s presentation was flawless. Self deprecating, the two men worked
for the common good. And in an upset of huge proportions, London won the bid. How big was
the upset? Like Billy Mills in the 1964 Olympic 10,000 meters and like Peter Snell
in the 1960 Olympic 800 meters.
And in truth, London, liked LA in 1984, saved the Olympic movement. In a city of
such wonderful diversity, there was something for everyone. In a community ravaged
one year before by racial strife, the city showed its best. The 80,000 fans in
the Olympic stadium put tears in my eyes more than once during that amazingly
sold out series of nights and days. It proved to me and many that, when presented
right, athletics is the sport everyone can love and enjoy. It is the reason why
Seb Coe makes so much sense as he runs for the head of the most important
Olympic federation: the IAAF. Coe can manage and steer the IAAF through what
could be difficult waters before it achieves what many believe it always should
be; the sport that leads global sport, one run, jump or throw at a time.
I am not sure what the USOC thought in the Boston bid. Was it cynicism or was
it neglect? Did they truly think, with so many holes in the bid that Boston
while well meaning, had any clue for what they were in for?
Take the Chicago bid. The USOC was at a nadir; it was ugly, arrogant
Americans shoving something down the throat of the world. And if President
Obama could not shake it loose, then, well the Chicago bid was doomed. I
am told that Mayor Daley’s office had some grief from the White House when
they figured out how far gone the bid was.
I am of the belief that the US has little chance of winning a bid at this
time. I am not sure we should even bid at this time. In a time of unre
the security costs alone will dwarf anything imagined in the past. The
US is the focal point of so much hate and vitriol, real and imagined by
many extremists groups, that, we may need to figure out our place in the world
once again (if you want to get an appreciation of this, read Barbara Tuchman’s
The Proud Tower, about the US emergence as a world power at the end of
the 19th century).
Paris, Budapest and Rome have now bid for 2024. There is some thought that LA
is very serious about the another bid. The LA 1984 Olympics were a watershed
event. Peter Ueberroth and his team were masterful. They comprehended the politics
and the zeitgeist.
The Boston 2024 team dreamed big. That is fine. But the USOC was there to manage
that dream, and I am not sure why the bid got out of the gate. Now, the whole
Boston 2024 sage may have put any hopes by an American city of hosting the
Olympics out of reach until 2032.
But then, there is Los Angeles. If anyplace, anywhere can create their own
reality, it is the capital of make believe.