- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2000

Washington and Baltimore's bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics has faced many hurdles, no pun intended.

First, there was the struggle to unite two disparate and divided cities toward one cause. Then loomed the pressure of raising the necessary $10 million in private and corporate donations to organize a proper bid. And legal challenges still remain from Elizabeth Ganzi, a one-time local Olympic organizer suing for wrongful termination.

Now comes the hard part.

Organizers for the local bid yesterday put the finishing touches on the 631-page proposal and shipped it off to the U.S. Olympic Committee, an effort requiring more than 15,000 man hours over two years. It was signed off by both Washington mayor Anthony Williams and his Baltimore counterpart, Martin O'Malley.

The national capital area has played host to the World Series, papal visits, political summits and numerous historic marches, but the Olympic bid proposes to put the area on the world's biggest stage for the first time.

"Today feels like a conclusion, but it's really the beginning," said Dan Knise, president of the Washington/Baltimore Regional 2012 Coalition. "The race begins today."

The bid will compete in a domestic competition against seven cities, including two-time Olympic host Los Angeles, Dallas and Tampa/ Orlando, Fla. The USOC will pick a single U.S. candidate in 2002 to compete for the 2012 Games. The International Olympic Committee will select a global winner three years later.

"These eight cities represent twice any previous U.S. candidate pool for a Summer Games," said Mike Moran, a USOC spokesman. "We're humbled by this unprecedented enthusiasm, because hosting the Olympics is a humbling, daunting task. All of your flaws are exposed for everyone to see.

"But these cities clearly believe that despite the beating the Olympic movement has taken for two years [following the Salt Lake City bribery scandal], it means something very different than fourth-and-1 from the 1-yard line for the Redskins," Moran said.

Starting the more uncertain part of their task, yesterday WBRC officials received financial commitments that shored up their financial ledger. America Online became a top-tier sponsor, pledging about $500,000 in cash and in-kind services. Ted Leonsis, AOL executive and Washington Capitals owner, is also making a personal contribution to the effort and is recruiting other tech executives to do the same.

The WBRC has about $8.7 million pledged in cash and in-kind services, $1.3 million less than the $10 million it seeks by midyear 2001 to see the bid through.

"We believe in this bid, and as citizens of this area, we want to see it grow, and [we] think this can be a very powerful instrument to do that," said George Vradenburg, AOL senior vice president of global and strategic policy. "By the time 2012 comes around, the Internet is going to be absolutely central in connecting the Olympics to people everywhere, and we can play a role in that, too."

Should the 2012 Games be held here, the WBRC projects an operating budget surplus of $279 million, and an overall economic impact of $5.3 billion. The only public funds committed are those directed to facilities whose usage will go beyond the Olympics, such as the University of Maryland's forthcoming Comcast Center. If the projected surplus turns into a deficit, public funds will be used to make up the shortfall.

Predictably, the local bid relies heavily on using the area's recent boom of sports facilities. PSINet Stadium, MCI Center, FedEx Field and Camden Yards will all be extensively used, with new construction held to a minimum. The bid also incorporates several infrastructure plans already in planning, such as extensions to the Metro rail system.

"I can tell you right know that the 2012 Games will be the best traffic this area has ever seen," said Knise, addressing the most common fear about having the Olympics here. "We will get people out of their cars and it will be a Games of mass transit."

The primary venue that will have to be built is a large track and field stadium, slated for the grounds of the current RFK Stadium. Tentatively designed at 80,000 seats, the new stadium would be far cheaper than most 100,000-seat Olympic complexes. Organizers can reduce the number of seats because they plan to split the opening ceremonies between two sites, The Mall in Washington and Baltimore's Inner Harbor. The open access to each area is a key wild card in the bid.

The bid's 32 proposed venues are clustered in five areas: Northern Virginia, the District, College Park, Annapolis and Baltimore. The WBRC is going forward with the dual-city name. Should they be asked to use just one, as is the Olympic custom, Washington will get the nod over Baltimore.

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