Obama plus Oprah plus Obama were supposed to win for Chicago the “O.” Games of 2016. Instead, what the three most recognized people on earth received was a first-round Copenhagen loss. No gold, no silver, no bronze—but a fourth place finish out of four.
“I’m shocked,” said the Australian IOC member, Kevan Gosper. “The whole thing doesn’t make sense other than there has been a stupid bloc vote. To have the president of the United States and his wife personally appear, then this should happen in the first round is awful and totally undeserving.”
What he meant was this: In Round One of the voting, the Asian countries agreed to vote for Tokyo—a city that was expected to be ousted in the first round of balloting. Shocking. Stunning. Surprising. Who would have thought that Chicago—tipped by the oddsmakers to win—would lose to Tokyo or Madrid at the very start?
In that first round, Chicago was KOed, winning only 18 of 94 votes while Tokyo amassed 22, Rio, 26, and Madrid scored 28. (In Round 2, Rio led with 46, followed by Madrid’s 29 and Tokyo’s 20. In the final round, Rio beat Madrid, 66 to 32.)
IOC members expressed surprise at the Round 1 exit. “This was, I can’t say a wrong decision,” said Norway’s Gerhard Heiberg: “But it was not a right decision.”
“Going out in first round, that was just an accident,” said Switzerland’s Rene Fasel. “I expected to have a different vote in the end. If Chicago is against Rio, it will be much closer.”
Which brings me to President Obama. It’s now evident that his in-and-out Air Force One overnight trip did not sway the IOC. His political enemies now say it was a mistake… it embarrassed the office of the U.S. president. Well, they’re right. But not exactly. Because had Mr. Obama not gone, he’d have been blamed for not attending when the heads of state of the other three did attend. At least with Obama, he can say, “It’s better to try and fail, than to fail to try.”
Last Friday, I saw his speech live on CNN. And, right before he spoke, I listened to Michelle Obama. Those 15 minutes when the couple spoke were moments of eloquence. They spoke from within. How the first lady grew up in Chicago, how the president found Chicago “home,” and why the IOC officials should choose The Windy City. Their words were poignant. The same cannot be said for the rest of the Chicago presentation. Allotted 45 minutes, the entire Chicago proposal was mediocre and lackluster.
Four years ago, I watched how London wowed the IOC with their inspiring presentation. This time, Chicago’s was a disappointment.
And where was Michael Jordan? Isn’t he a long-time Chicago resident who donned the jersey with the second name, “Bulls?” Because in his absence, one other athlete stood tallest: Pele. Widely acknowledged as the all-time greatest in football, Pele arrived in Denmark days before, shook hands with, and urged the IOC. And, like the dozens of goals Pele amassed in his career, he scored plenty the other day.
And so Brazil will host the 2016 Olympiad. Was there any doubt? Sure, many tipped Chicago to “upset” Rio de Janeiro, but the IOC officials have always voted, especially in the last few Olympics, based on geography. In 2001, they sent the Olympics to China—a first for the most populous nation on this planet. In 2005, they chose Europe, in a battle between London and Paris. And now, Brazil.
Thanks to Brazilian President Lula da Silva, the man who outshone Obama. His story was compelling: While all other continents (except Africa) have had multiple opportunities for the once-every-four-years Games, never in history has the Olympics been held in his continent, South America.
“The decision is a homage to the people of Rio who normally only appear in newspaper pages with bad news,” said the teary-eyed Brazilian president after the awarding. “I confess to you that, if I died now, my life would have been worthwhile.”
Brazil, the world’s 10th biggest economy, will transform into a sporting dominion in the coming years. Apart from the XXXI Olympiad in 2016, it also hosts the 2014 World Cup. Imagine one nation as sole proprietor of the two biggest sporting events on earth?