Chicago’s dreams of Olympic glory were shattered Friday afternoon, as Rio de Janeiro was granted the rights to host the 2016 Summer Games, disappointing President Obama and marking the first time the global sports spectacle will be held in South America.
Just hours after an impassioned, personal plea from Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave Chicago the fewest votes in the first round of voting during its session in Copenhagen. Supporters who believed the president’s adopted hometown was one of the favorites to win were stunned.
Rio de Janeiro easily bested Madrid 66-32 in the final round of IOC voting to win the rights to host the games. Tokyo placed third and Chicago last among the four finalists.
IOC members were apparently moved by the pitch from Brazilian officials, who urged the committee to award the games to a South American city for the first time. At one point, bid representatives displayed a map showing where previous Olympics have been held, pointing to numerous times in which the games took place in Europe and the United States.
“Rio is a suffered city,” said Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who wept openly after learning of the IOC’s decision. “For a long time Rio only showed up in the newspapers only showing crimes. We want Rio to show up in the headlines, but the sports headlines showing good news of the good things we are doing.”
IOC President Jacquese Rogge said Rio put forth a “very strong” bid and noted that the city rebounded from an early-round ouster from consideration for the 2012 Summer Games, awarded to London.
“Rio remained humble,” Mr. Rogge said. “Rio wanted to listen, to correct their shortcomings. They learned a lot, and today they won. And I think this is a very nice story. The [IOC] members also went for the extra added value of going for the first time to a continent that never had the games. So I think this is an important decision.”
The announcement from Mr. Rogge that Chicago was the lowest vote-getter stunned a crowd in the city’s Daley Plaza that had gathered in anticipation of a celebration. After a morning of music from cover bands and speeches from Chicago icons such as Olympic basketball player Scottie Pippen, the hundreds of people who gathered to watch the announcement of the winning city were ill-prepared to be knocked out of the running so early in the competition.
“It was a real bummer,” said Eve Geroulis, a Loyola University global marketing professor who volunteered for the Chicago 2016 committee and attended the Daley Plaza festivities with a group of college students. “I have a deep emotional investment to the games as a Greek and as a lifelong Chicagoan. There was a momentum building and it was incredibly deflating; all of the air literally sucked out of that plaza when they announced that the city with the least votes was Chicago.”
Mrs. Geroulis said she had high hopes for the potential of the Olympics to revitalize the city.
“There would have been a residual benefit of the games in infrastructure and supporting youth sports,” she said. “It would have also gotten the Chicago Transit Authority up to date and created jobs, which are things that a lot of big cities in America need right now.”
Rio will now have seven years to prepare for the games and will be one of several Brazilian cities hosting soccer’s 2014 FIFA World Cup, which could offer a glimpse of how the Olympics will fare there.
But while Rio gets busy with preparations, supporters of Chicago’s Olympic bid are left wondering what went wrong. Chicago spent nearly $50 million in its effort to get the Olympics, and the city’s early exit is especially stinging given New York’s early departure from consideration for the 2012 Summer Games.
“It just wasn’t our day to win,” Pat Ryan, chairman of Chicago’s organizing committee, told the Associated Press in Copenhagen. “That’s just the way it goes. Some days you win, some days you don’t.”
The last Olympic event held in the U.S. was the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. The elimination of Chicago guarantees that the United States will go at least 16 years without hosting an Olympic Games, the longest gap since the 20-year one between the 1960 Winter Games in California’s Squaw Valley and the 1980 Games in Lake Placid, New York. The U.S. has not hosted a Summer Games since 1996 in Atlanta.