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Bright side of losing 2016

Between the Lines



Throughout the tight-knit yet turbulent family known as the U.S. Olympic Committee, frustration and bitterness rule this week.

Everyone is sharing the pain after the International Olympic Committee's decision last week to award the 2016 Summer Games to Rio de Janeiro. From athletes to coaches and administrators, the American Olympic movement had viewed Chicago's bid for 2016 with much hope. To them, bringing the Olympics back to the United States, generating a massive seven-year buildup of excitement and public interest, would have provided the perfect stimulus for the USOC.

There was ample star power in Chicago's final presentation, from President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to Oprah Winfrey and David Robinson. (Where was Michael Jordan?) But then again, the Windy City's bid organizers had to know that winning the sweepstakes often has required more than just a glitzy, star-studded presentation at the end.

Certainly, bringing in the U.S. president didn't hurt. But many of those IOC members surely also remembered London's campaign that culminated four years ago with nabbing the 2012 Olympics. Then-Prime Minister Tony Blair wasn't just on center stage for the final show to the IOC; he had helped cultivate support long before, attending the 2004 Olympics in Athens to work the crowd of global leaders along with some of Great Britain's legendary Olympians.

Chicago didn't have that luxury in 2008 for the Beijing Games, with an outgoing American president and an ongoing election campaign. In the end, Rio and Brazil made a strong point about South America having never hosted the Olympics, and the IOC's powerful European bloc was divided. Brazil also had its own living legend in soccer god Pelé, and the fact that its wild fans have so positively impacted the atmosphere at many recent Olympiads, both of which also worked in Rio's favor.

There's another underlying factor, and Colorado Springs has a role in it.

Inside the ultra-sensitized Olympic world, stability or lack thereof makes a difference. Early this decade, the USOC was plagued by poor leadership and bad choices. But that changed during the tenure of CEO Jim Scherr, himself a former Olympic wrestler, starting in 2003. Scherr provided that all-important stability and calmness, enhancing this country's presence and its Olympic successes. By extension, Scherr was helping Chicago's bid campaign.

Then came the USOC's palace coup last March, when the volunteer board's new leadership forced Scherr's sudden resignation with no apparent justification. The new tandem, USOC president Larry Probst and interim CEO Stephanie Streeter, brought plenty of business credentials but absolutely no expertise inside the Olympic soap opera.

That chain of events set back the USOC in the Olympic world's eyes, and the persistent uncertainty it created was surely a factor in that IOC vote last week. Then, on Wednesday, came the news that Streeter now won't be a candidate for the permanent CEO position, as had been assumed. Also Wednesday, a survey of USOC member sports' leaders produced a damning 40-0 vote of no confidence in Streeter's ability to run the organization.

Where does Colorado Springs fit in this discussion? Simple. If Chicago had prevailed, while our city continued to struggle wrapping up the USOC retention deal, you could rest assured the wheels would have started turning immediately — greased by money and influence — for Chicago to lure the Olympic Committee away from here.

Instead, now it's a moot point. Chicago will be out of the Olympic business for the time being, because the deflation of losing (and finishing fourth) will overwhelm any immediate desire to make another try at 2020. There's no money or motivation to woo the USOC at this point, though that could change around 2013 — after the next IOC vote on the 2020 host city.

Meanwhile, the USOC's top priority has to be finalizing preparations for the upcoming 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, even while trying to find a new CEO, as Colorado Springs strives to remove the final obstacles to guaranteeing the Olympic presence remaining here for another three decades.

Besides, it doesn't matter to Colorado Springs which city hosts the Olympics. Our place in the movement revolves around the basic operations of the USOC and its member sports: developing future Olympians and celebrating their accomplishments.

Those are the ideals worth preserving here. Now and permanently.

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