Dreams of a Chicago Olympics ended in Copenhagen, Denmark on Friday as the International Olympic Committee voted to host the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In a surprising turn of events, IOC delegates eliminated Chicago’s bid after the first round of voting despite strong support from President Barack Obama.
The first-round exit was a shock to Chicagoans and most international observers, who considered the Windy City an odds-on favorite together with Rio.
The Brazilian city won the right to host the Olympics in a final showdown with Madrid. Tokyo was knocked out after the second ballot.
As the results were announced, a collective gasp rose up from the roughly 3,000 Chicagoans gathered in Daley Plaza to watch the voting live. The crowd, many of whom were wearing orange “Chicago 2016” shirts, stared numbly at the large video screens where live coverage of the vote was playing. Some were still holding signs that read, “It’s Gonna Happen.”
“This isn’t happening, this isn’t happening,” said Bolingbrook Mayor Roger C. Claar. “It’s an insult to the most prosperous and successful country in the world.”
The initial shock was followed by many questions and explanations about the loss. Speculation in the crowd ranged from over-politicization of the vote to lack of enthusiasm for an American Olympics in the international community. Concerns about lack of public support and fundraising difficulties also dogged the Chicago bid throughout the campaign.
The IOC delegates selected the winner according to official protocol — after three rounds of voting. After each round, the lowest vote-getter got eliminated and ballots were recast. Chicago exited first, followed by Tokyo and then Madrid.
Right before the vote, President Obama addressed the IOC delegates in a strongly supportive speech for Chicago’s bid. First lady Michelle Obama also spent two days lobbying for Chicago in Copenhagen.
“I’m shocked,” said Kim Bleck of Libertyville. “I definitely thought we’d be in the top two.”
Many on the Northwestern campus were also disappointed with the news. Weinberg freshman Kelly Tausk registered to volunteer for the Chicago Olympic movement and was at Daley Plaza for the announcement.
“It was not my ideal experience,” Tausk said. “That would’ve been seeing Tokyo go down, seeing Madrid go down, and then us being in the final two.”
The news was also double disappointment for Northwestern, which played a role in the bid and the venue plans. Pat Ryan, the former Chairman of the Northwestern Board of Trustees, was the President of the Chicago 2016 committee.
“I think we all feel bad for what he’s going through,” said Athletic Director Jim Phillips, who is also a listed member of the committee. “Chicago couldn’t have had a better leader.”
Chicago’s proposal planned to host the pentathlon events at Ryan Field. The committee was also considering providing space on the Evanston campus for swimmers and field hockey players to train.
“I’m extremely disappointed for the city and the university,” Phillips said. “I think [the Olympics] would have had an immeasurable impact.”
Meanwhile, Rio de Janeiro was celebrating a landslide win. The Brazilian metropolis will be the first South American city in history to host the Olympic Games. Some felt that such a story line gave Rio the edge over Chicago.
“I think it’s good for Rio,” said Weinberg freshman Dan Tully. “I know it’s never been to South America, and good for them.”
Despite the setback, many are still hopeful about the future of Chicago and the Olympics. Though the city was eliminated early in the voting process, much of the crowd stayed at Daley Plaza after the announcement.
Half an hour after Chicago left the race, swimming gold medalist Rowdy Gaines took to an empty stage near the front of the plaza and addressed the crowd.
“I believe this is just a stepping stone to the future,” Gaines said. “Whatever you do, don’t give up on this great, great city. It’s the greatest city in the world.”
As he waved goodbye to the crowd, people bent down, picked up their limp “It’s Gonna Happen” signs and cheered.