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Chicago ought to give the Olympics a chance

Illuminated Olympic rings are displayed

Illuminated Olympic rings are displayed

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so what about 2020?

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will host the 2016 Summer Olympics. These five
cities have submitted bids to host the 2020 Games. The winner will be elected Sept. 7, 2013, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

• Istanbul, Turkey

• Tokyo, Japan

• Madrid, Spain

• Baku, Azerbaijan

• Doha, Qatar

Complete coverage: London Olympics

Updated: September 14, 2012 6:13AM

LONDON — London Pride is a beer, but it’s also a fact.

Finding the strain of fervor that was on display here for the last 17 days might involve visiting a country with an official state news agency, ideological slogans and soldiers parading in lockstep.

That zeal made all the difference in London, from the funding of Great Britain’s sports programs and athletes for the last seven years to an almost-flawless running of these Olympics.

Did the Brits go overboard by obsessing about their athletes to the exclusion of all the other competitors? Um, yes. They were about as subtle as the Ministry of Silly Walks.

I’d like to think that we Chicagoans would embrace the world, that we would cheer the Kenyan marathon winner more loudly than we would the U.S. pole vaulter who finished 17th. But I’m getting way ahead of things. We don’t have an Olympics on our schedule. We aren’t even sure we want one after the last attempt.

The starter’s gun hardly had gone off for the voting to award the 2016 Summer Olympics when Chicago learned its bid had been rejected. Those Games
went to Rio de Janeiro, but there is talk Chicago might make another bid, perhaps for 2024.

It should. In London, I saw a city full of people who normally keep to themselves come together for a common goal. There’s currency in that, even if the Olympics are an economic risk. If London, Vancouver and Barcelona have the will to pull off an Olympics, then they should be able to do just about anything. That’s the idea, at least.

Seventy-thousand volunteers from all over Great Britain used vacation time and paid for their own travel and lodging just to be part of the Games. Could Americans and Chicagoans make similar sacrifices? I don’t know.

I do know that Chicago needs something to feel good about, to unite over, to agree on. I’m quite certain that ‘‘something’’ isn’t blue-light cameras. London struggles with the same issues we do — crime, the economy, poverty — and heading into the Olympics, many people here thought playing host to the Games was a colossal mistake. In almost three weeks here, I couldn’t find one person who held that view. That’s because, done right, the Olympics transform a city.

Chicago can learn some lessons from London and other Olympic sites. One is what a former pub owner here told me: Greed always kills. Hotels that had jacked up their prices for the Games found themselves with lots of empty rooms. Then they slashed those prices. Too late. Greed had done them in.

Here’s another lesson: Journalists are complainers. If you think that’s insignificant, you’re wrong. The reason the 1996 Atlanta Games were a public-relations disaster was because many of the bus drivers who had been hired from out of state didn’t know where they were going. Media members were riding on some of those buses. Being hopelessly lost at 2 a.m. doesn’t lead to glowing tributes in newspapers or on websites.

I bring this up because London was smart enough to have well-trained drivers, as well as lanes dedicated to Olympic buses. Transportation was a breeze. I never got stuck in traffic. Many of the locals were surprised by how little they were inconvenienced by the Games, but that might have something to do with Londoners leaving town to avoid the headaches.

Security is a priority at every Olympics, and despite London being zipped up tight, it never was a hassle or an impediment. There were too many events with empty seats gone unused by corporate sponsors. Nothing riles up people who have been turned down for tickets more than that. Take note, Chicago organizers.

The bottom line is that an Olympics is doable for our city, as long as the will of
the people is there.

Anyone who says the Summer Games are moneymakers needs to be viewed with skepticism. But if an Olympics were to help build up some of the disadvantaged areas of Chicago, that would be a fine legacy. That’s the idea on the East End of London, where many of the venues were located. Time will tell whether the area reaps long-term benefits.

We’re not London. Its biggest concern seems to be that, even as sports have energized this city for 2½ weeks, school athletic programs for children are being cut. In Chicago, we’re worried about education cuts that hurt children. We’re worried about children getting murdered.

In light of that, it would be easy to say the Olympics are a luxury we can’t afford. But you can apply that thinking to just about anything and find yourself paralyzed by inaction. We can’t afford the arts, music, nature preservation, etc. But we need them, just as we need sports.

London was lifted up by these Games. Chicago could gain similar elevation, should it choose and be chosen. It’s worth the effort.

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