NYC2012 venue map

It was the late 1970s and NYC was in the economic dumps. I used to take the train to a station called 23rd and Ely when there was a guy who used to jump in and out of the subway cars with an axe, taking swings at unsuspecting passengers.

I spent my high school summers with a friend in a magazine delivery sorting warehouse in Long Island City, Queens, unloading heavy canvas bags filled with magazines from all over the world, sorting them by postal code into boxes, and repacking them into the bags by area. We worked hard for our minimum wage.

Long Island City was typical of the neighborhoods along the western waterfront part of Queens facing Manhattan – warehouses, factories, chop shops and vacant lots. For decades, various administrations had tried to transform this prime waterfront property, but to little avail.

Like many other places in the five boroughs, it needed an Olympian shove. When Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his deputy, Daniel Doctoroff, kicked off in 2002 a campaign to bid for New York City to be host to the 2012 Summer Olympics, it triggered a comprehensive planning process that has altered the look of the city, and continues to do so.

Hunters Point South is several miles south of Long Island City where I sweated my high school summers away. Hunters Point was to be the site of the Olympic Village, a peaceful oasis surrounded by water on three sides, and yet within 10 kilometers of almost all major sporting venues. Hunters Point was to become the home for some 4,400 units in mid-rise buildings, and after the Olympians went home, would be converted into affordable housing – with a spectacular view of the East River and the Manhattan skyline.

Olympic Village envisioned in Hunter's Point Queens
Olympic Village envisioned in Hunter’s Point Queens

The Olympic Village was no longer necessary after NYC came in fourth in the 2012 bidding process. But the development plans in Hunters Point continued. According to Wikipedia, “As of Spring 2017, the project had attracted $2 billion from private investors. The plan calls for a 10-year build-out of 5,000 dwelling middle-income units, 1,100-seat intermediate/high school, waterfront park of 11 acres (45,000 m2), 96,500 sq ft (8,970 m2) for commercial development, 4,600 sq ft (430 m2) of community space.”

And that’s just Queens.

Manhattan: Although a new stadium for the New York Jets was not built over the Hudson Yards, the bidding process resulted in the rezoning of the area, paving the way for commercial and residential development.

While the LIRR trains at the Hudson Yards are still not covered, development plans for new residential and commercial buildings continue. Part of the Olympic development plan was to convert an old eyesore, an elevated train line, called the High Line, into a walkway from 34th street to the Village downtown. This plan has gone ahead, and a recent visit speaks to its vast popularity. This area was never really accessible to public transportation, so the Olympic bid accelerated the push to extend the #7 subway line to Hudson Yards. You can now get to the waterfront and the starting point for the High Line by taking the 7 train to 34th Street–Hudson Yards train station, which opened in September 2015.

High Line 3
Walking along the High Line

Brooklyn: Thanks to the Olympic bid and planning process, parts of the Brooklyn waterfront were re-zoned to create parks and develop residential and retail space, transforming the Greenpoint and Williamsburg parts of Brooklyn.

Bronx: Although the Olympics did not come to New York, and thus the facilities for track cycling and badminton did not come to the Bronx as a result, the bid process helped spur the redevelopment of what has been described as the dilapidated (and mostly unused) Bronx Terminal Market, which is now the home to a $500 million mall.

Ferry Service: Apparently, there were plans for Olympic athletes to get to certain venues by boat. While the IOC did not approve of that form of transportation, the idea for private ferry services remained alive. “In the summer of 2011, the City launched a new private ferry service linking East River waterfront neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens to Midtown and Lower Manhattan,” according to a report.

Harlem Armory and Queens Pool: Going ahead with plans hatched in the Olympic bid plan, the city continued with renovation of the 369th Regiment Armory in Harlem, which was to house the boxing events, and a public pool in Flushing, Queens, which was to be the venue for water polo.

Much of the above information has been culled from this fascinating report, “How New York City Won The Olympics”, by Mitchell L. Moss Director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management.

 

Mayor Mike Bloomberg talking about NYC2012
Mayor Michael Bloomberg pitching NYC2012.

 

It was November, 2011, only a few months after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, and Michael Bloomberg was elected the new mayor of this broken metropolis, the wounds of 9-11 were still exposed and bleeding.

And yet, with Bloomberg’s appointment of Daniel L. Doctoroff as Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding, the mayor triggered the start of a massive and well organized urban renewal development process that leveraged the Olympic Candidate bidding process to transform the city.

When he was an investment banker on Wall Street, Doctoroff was astonished to see the World Cup hosted in the United States at Giants Stadium in 1994, and how well received it was. He saw how one of the biggest events in the world was so welcome in New York City, one of the most diverse cities in the world. Since that time, Doctoroff had been on a mission to bring the Summer Olympic Games to New York City, and finally got the podium and the means to do so in the Bloomberg administration.

According to the report by Mitchell L. Moss Director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, Doctoroff’s strategy was to bring together all of the independent development ideas and plans for various parts of New York City and see whether they could all be put to use in the service of an Olympics. In Moss’ fascinating report, “How New York City Won The Olympics” (yes, I stole his title), all of these independent development projects were meandering along until Doctoroff argued for simultaneous fulfilment of these projects using the idea of an Olympic Games in New York City as a driving vision.

The NYC2012 team built upon previous studies by municipal agencies and civic groups. What was perhaps unprecedented, was the effort to aggregate all these areas in an overall development plan. The Olympic presentation offered a broad five-borough agenda for future development that gave priority to these neglected areas for comprehensive City action. No comparable city-wide plan for short-term action, involving a broad range of targeted areas in all five boroughs, had ever been presented or carried out in the modern history of New York City.

2012 candidate city logos

Doctoroff was also able to use the Olympic Games candidate city bid process as a way to drive a planning cadence and a sense of urgency.

The Bloomberg Administration now sought to use the pressure of the fixed, Olympic bid timetable to push forward the legal and technical review and approval of these projects on an accelerated schedule so that by the time of the IOC decision in mid-2005, they would be positioned to go forward regardless of whether New York City’s bid was successful.

As you are aware, the 2012 Olympics went to London, and NYC finished fourth behind Paris and Madrid. Perhaps New York City was never really in the running. The official reasons were that the Winter Olympics would be in Vancouver in 2010, so they couldn’t have two Olympics in a row in North America – a fairly weak reason considering that from 2018 to 2022 three straight Olympics will be held in Asia. Perhaps the US invasion of Iraq, and the memories of 9-11 left a tiny tingling fear in the amygdala of the IOC members.

Regardless of the bid vote, the Bloomberg administration was committed, in the aftermath of 9-11, to revitalize New York City across all five boroughs in a way unprecedented since the Robert Moses years. And as you can read in Part 4, many of the development plans designed for the NYC2012 Candidate bid were pushed forward.

Economist Andrew Zimbalist has written a fascinating book on the economics of Big Tent sporting events like the Olympics called Circus Maximus – The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup. He writes eloquently about how often the economic impact on host cities is negative. But Zimbalist cites the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as the poster child for how to do it right. And as you can see in his advice, New York City followed the Barcelona template:

In 1983, city planners put out a preliminary report on the feasibility of hosting the Olympics and concluded that the refurbishment of the 1936 stadium in Montjuic (which became the Olympic Stadium) and the construction of the Sports Palace and Swimming facility would be undertaken whether or not the city was selected to host the games. Of the thirty-seven sports facilities ultimately used during the 1992 Olympics, twenty-seven were already built and another five were under construction at the time Spain was selected to host the games in 1986. Thus a central feature of the Barcelona experience is that the plan preceded the games, and hence the games were put at the service of the preexisting plan, rather than the typical pattern of the city development plan being put at the service of the games.

Fanny Blankers Koen with her children 2
Fanny Blankers Koen with her children and husband.

We meet competitive people all the time. Some of them can be jerks – for them, winning is everything, and relationships are secondary. As this Psychology Today article hints, competitive people can be overly narcissistic and self-centered, “not seeing you as a separate human being, but more as an extension of themselves.” The article also explains that competitive people could have issues of self esteem. “When they are doing well, they feel great and even superior to others, whereas when they encounter setbacks, they tend to feel shame and self-doubt. This results in anxiety and vigilance around social status and performance.”

Sometimes, we learn that even our heroes are prone to this kind of behavior. Arguably one of the greatest stories of the 1948 London Olympics was Fanny Blankers-Koen. The “Flying Dutchwoman” as the woman from Holland was called, won an amazing four gold medals in the 100-meter dash, the 80-meter hurdles, the 200-meters and the 4×100 relay.

Often described as a shy, gangly 30-year-old housewife, people were amazed at her accomplishments, often wondering what her medal would have been if the Olympics were not canceled in 1940 and 1944, arguably Blanker-Koen’s prime years. In 1999, the IAAF recognized her as the sportswoman of the 20th century. As written in the journal of the International Society of Olympic Historians, as celebrated as Fanny Blankers-Koen was, she was not beloved by those closest to her.

Een Koningin Met Mannenbenen_Fanny Blankers-Koen

This article mentions a book called, in Dutch, Een Koningin Met Mannenbenen written by Kees Kooman, a sportswriter, author and investigative journalist. Although not yet translated in English, the title would be something like – “A Queen with Man’s Legs”. According to Kees, Blankers-Koen ahd this to say about her mother:

I think my mother never loved herself; while the other way around she could not give love and friendship herself to other people! Laying an arm around your shoulder like my father used to do, was an impossibility for her.

Here is another quote from the book in this article in The Independent:

Fanny Snr’s brother, Huib Koen, told Kooman: “My sisterwas a girl who always did what she wanted to do but, to be honest with you, she was really always a bitch.”

Kees, a sports writer of good repute, explains in The Independent article that she was very much a competitive personality, and it got in the way of relationships:

Fanny wasn’t only the shy, nice Dutch housewife. Sport was everything to her and she wanted to win in everything. If she was out on her bike and someone was ahead of her she had to beat them. When she was 65 and she was told about someone knitting a sweater in a week, she was so jealous she had to do it herself.

Sport was more important to her than her children. Her daughter and her son were both critical of her. As her daughter said, she didn’t love herself. She had problems with confidence. I think she was searching for it on the track.

Hudson Yards circa 2004
Hudson Yards circa 2004

In late 2004, New York City wasn’t seen as having much of a chance to win the right to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, at least by bookmakers in London. According to a November 16, 2004 Newsday article, Paris was viewed as 1-2 favorites – in other words, for every $2 you put down on Paris, you’d win $1 assuming Paris won. London and Madrid were seen as good chances as well, at 3-1 and 4-1 respectively. New York City was considered unlikely at 14-1, although Moscow seemed out of the running with 33-1 odds. Europe appeared to have a lock on the 2012 Games.

New York City had advantages: a modern metropolis with world-class facilities in a compact area, a diverse and energetic populace, financial feasibility, as well as a powerful PR man in Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The organizers of the Paris Olympic bid were dismissive of the bid coming out of the US. After all, Paris is not only the birthplace of the modern Olympics, it had hosted the Olympics three times, and had more recently built up credibility over two previous bids. New York City, on the other hand, was the biggest city in the increasingly unpopular United States and President George Bush, who led the surprising charge into Iraq. With America fighting such an unpopular war, what is to stop terrorists from targeting New York City again during the Olympic Games?

As Jean-Paul Huchon, the vice president of the Paris Olympic bidding committee put it, “The position of the French government on the international scene, especially after the re-election of George Bush, is going to allow us to have more unity around the French candidacy,” he said in a November 18, 2004 International Herald Tribune article. “This is indisputable. If these are supposed to be the Games of brotherhood and solidarity, this would be more easily achieved in Paris.”

Perhaps that issue weighed heavily in the minds of the International Olympic Committee. Perhaps not. It’s possible that the bigger advantage that Paris had over NYC was that Paris had The Stade de France – a newly built stadium that seated over 81,000 in the center of Paris. At the last stage in the bidding process in February, 2004, New York City still did not have a definitive plan for a stadium.

Proposed West Side Stadium for the New York Jets
Proposed West Side Stadium for the New York Jets

This was New York’s 20th century West Side Story.

And strangely enough, it involved The Jets.

In the 26-acre area squared in by 30th and 42nd streets, and Tenth Avenue and the Hudson River, is the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) train terminal where trains departing Penn Station a few blocks away rest. It has been an open air eyesore in a poorly developed part of Manhattan, that had been a target for development and reinvigoration by city planners for decades. The fact that there was no subway service to that area, among other reasons, made it a challenging decision to give he go ahead to further develop this massive plot.

But when the Daniel L. Doctoroff, the deputy mayor, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg teamed up for a vision of an Olympics across all five boroughs of New York City, its center in Manhattan, momentum began to build for the establishment of an Olympic Stadium in area called the West Side, but they began to call the Hudson Yards. The American football team – the New York Jets – were bought by Woody Johnson four years previously. His Jets were sharing a stadium with the New York Giants in New Jersey, and so Johnson wanted to have a stadium exclusively for his team. Thus was hatched a plan for The New York Jets to spend $800 million for a stadium on the West Side, with the city and state governments providing another $600 million to fund the construction of the platform that would cover the trains and tracks of the terminal.

The vision included the stadium’s linkage to the aging Jacob Javits convention center, which was the city’s premier convention center, but tiny compared to the centers in other major cities. The new stadium would include a roof that would open up a massive amount of space for conventions, and thus potentially attract significant business and visitors to the Big Apple.

And yet, this was not a vision universally approved. For one, James Dolan, the owner of Cablevision and Madison Square Garden, objected to a rival sports complex opening literally blocks away from his own. Dolan not only aired critical ads against the proposed stadium, he eventually fought back by offering the Metropolitan Transit Authority a bid to compete with the new York Jets’ bid.

Additionally, voices were vociferously raised against the stadium by people living in the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as the nearby theater district, who saw the increased construction and traffic as a problem worth protesting.

west side stadium

So even before the IOC voted on which city to select for 2012, a New York State board called the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), put a dagger in the heart of the New York City bid. The PACB represents the New York State governor and the leaders of the State Senate and Assembly, and they voted to not approve the plans for the stadium and the convention center extension, perhaps reluctant to use significant state funds for a massive city project.

In the end, the London bookies were right – the winning money was indeed on London. The Jets would remain in New Jersey. And New Yorkers would get on with their lives. Fuhgetaboutit.

Christo and Jean Claude The Gates._Plaza Hoteljpg
The Gates by Christo and Jean Claude, in front of thePlaza Hotel

It was February, 2005. The International Olympic Committee’s evaluation commission was in New York City, checked in at the prestigious Plaza Hotel, overlooking a picturesque Central Park draped in snow. The once-in-a-lifetime Christo and Jean-Claude exhibition known simply as The Gates – massive saffron-colored banners dotting the walkways of the park.

To this IOC commission, the one that would decide whether New York City, Paris, London, Madrid or Moscow would win the right to host the 2012 Olympics, the messaging was consistent. There’s no place like New York City. And there’s no better place to host the Summer Olympics than the Big Apple.

New_York_City_2012_Olympic_bid_logo.svg

Picture this, they likely said to the commission members:

  • See the iconic Batman symbol of Gotham City, see the Olympic Rings shining in the New York night.
  • Imagine athletes of the world floating down the Hudson River in an armada, their procession leading them to the Olympic Stadium on the newly revitalized West Side.
  • Know that the world’s best athletes would compete in iconic, world-renown venues: basketball at Madison Square Garden, baseball at Yankees Stadium, tennis at Arthur Ashe Stadium (where the US Open is held), soccer at Giants Stadium, the triathlon in Central Park!
  • How about a closing ceremonies that includes a massive ticker tape parade down Broadway and the Canyon of Heroes.

And don’t forget that New York City is a microcosm of the world. The Statue of Liberty has welcomed the world for over a century. As the NYC2012 slogans stated, “Every Country Gets Home Field Advantage” and “Every Flag Will Wave”.

At this time, I had just moved from Bangkok, Thailand to Tokyo, Japan. My mind was filled with the tsunami that had just hit Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia, and my relocation to Japan. I had no idea what was going on in my hometown of New York City. But if I had been aware, I’m sure I would have been on the bandwagon.

I could see that vision. I can still see that vision. It is worthy of New York City.

 

Fanny Blankers-Koen winning 200 meters in London
Fanny Blankers-Koen winning 200 meters in London

 

When Fanny Blankers-Koen won four gold medals at the 1948 London Olympics, she was 30 years old and a mother of two.

Despite the fact that the war-ravaged years of the 1940s resulted in athletes of all ages, she was considered too old. The Smithsonian noted the reaction of TeamGB’s team manager, Jack Crump, who “took one look at Blankers-Koen and said she was ‘too old to make the grade.’”

Even more amazingly, Blankers-Koen won the gold in the 100-meters, the 80-meter hurdles, the 200-meters and the 4×100 relay while 3 months pregnant! If the press was aware of that, it’s possible Blankers-Koen would have been attacked more aggressively. And yet, the what the press wrote must have rankled, typically being described as the “shy, towering, drably domesticated” housewife.

According to The Economist, she was reported to say, “I got very many bad letters”, people writing that I must stay home with my children and that I should not be allowed to run on a track with…short trousers.”

The Smithsonian noted that the press was commonly patronizing of her, “hyping Blankers-Koen as the ‘Flying Housewife…’ Newspaper coverage of her exploits reflected the sexism of the time in other ways. One reporter wrote that she ran ‘like she was chasing the kids out of the pantry.’ Another observed that she ‘fled through her trial heats as though racing to the kitchen to rescue a batch of burning biscuits.'”

And yet, Blankers-Koen was indeed in conflict between personal achievement and family. After she had won her second gold medal in the 80-meters, barely, she was ready to go home. The unending criticism and the pressure to win combined made her homesick. But her husband and coach, Jan Blankers, convinced her that glory was hers for the taking. So Blankers-Koen trooped on, still breaking down in tears after a 200-meter heat.

Fanny Blankers Koen with her children

The Flying Dutchwoman went on to win gold in the 200 meters and 4×100 relay, convincingly, establishing her place in the Olympic Pantheon of greats. Blankers-Koen set 16 world records in eight different athletic disciplines. In 1999, she was voted female athlete of the 20th century by the International Association of Athletics.

And while it may not have seemed so at the time, Blankers-Koen made a difference. So thought Sebastian Coe head of the organizing committee for the 2012 London Olympics:

“She moved the discussion on about the ability of women, particularly post World War II. A lot of things came together at the same time, particularly women who were taking up jobs that were often vacated by men” (who did not survive the fighting). “Women were showing that they were physically the equals of those jobs when it was assumed that they were not.”

She was 18 years old at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, a competitor in the high jump and the 4×100 relay. She did not win any medals but the tall woman from Lage Vuursche in Holland, but she did get the autograph of one Jesse Owens.

Owens was the star of the 1936 Games, reportedly showing up der Fuhrer by winning four gold medals. Fanny Blankers-Koen would also go on to win four gold medals in the Olympics, but she would have to wait 12 more years, as the Olympics were cancelled during the war years, before she could compete on the highest stage.

Watch the video above of the first woman to win four gold medals, which she did at the 1948 London Olympics. Blankers-Koen was absolutely dominant.

In her first competition, Blankers-Koen led the 100-meter dash nearly from start to finish.

In her next event, she had to work the hardest, coming from behind to barely win the 80-meter hurdles, but still in Olympic record time.

Fanny Blankers-Koen winning 80 meter hurdles in London
Fanny Blankers-Koen winning the 80 meter hurdles in London in 1948.

In her third triumph, Blankers-Koen won the 200-meters in the first lane, eating up the water-drenched track like a locomotive, well ahead of the 2nd place finisher, in Olympic record time.

And finally, in 4×100 meter relay, the Dutch team, in their orange shorts, were trailing in third when their anchor, Blankers-Koen took the baton. And like a rocket, she shot to the lead and crossed the line with her fourth gold medal.

Like her hero in Berlin, Jesse Owens, Blankers-Koen won four gold medals, the first woman ever to do so.   According to the Smithsonian, Blankers-Koen met Owens again, this time in Munich in 1972.

“I still have your autograph,” she told her hero.  “I’m Fanny Blankers-Koen.”

“You don’t have to tell me who you are,” Owens replied. “I know everything about you.”