President Thomas Bach
IOC President Thomas Bach
In July, 2015, there were only two cities vying for the 2022 Winter Games: Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing, China. Just 10 months before, Oslo, Norway, the host of the 1952 Winter Olympics, pulled out of the running. Sochi a year before famously cost $50 billion, and the Norwegian government was expecting the cost for their city to be billions more than they had an appetite for.

That left Almaty, a city generally unknown, and Beijing, a well-known city that gets very little snow.

With the ugly photos coming out of Rio de Janeiro of the crumbling Olympic infrastructure after only some 7 months, more and more city denizens and governments are convinced they don’t want an Olympics in their metropolis. In fact, Budapest, Hungary, which submitted a strong bid for the 2024 Summer Games, withdrew its bid a week ago on March 1.

So like the 2022 bid, now there are only two for the 2024 Games.

This must be causing considerable heartburn for leaders of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The bidding process has resulted not in a celebration of city pride with the hopes of bringing the biggest sports tent their way, but in opportunities for large numbers of people to publicly and loudly proclaim their disenchantment, if not diffidence with having the Olympics in their back yard.

Rio Swimming Venue Before and After
Rio Swimming Venue Before and After
Fortunately, the 2024 has two solid prospects: Los Angeles and Paris. As Tim Crow writes in this great article, “And Then There Were Two“,

LA is the most compelling, with its vision of Californian sunshine, West Coast tech innovation and Hollywood storytelling power combining to ‘regenerate the Games’ and ‘refresh the Olympic brand around the world’.

Paris is more traditional, a classic piece of Olympic realpolitik, invoking de Coubertin in a ‘new vision of Olympism in action’ in the grand old city, linked to those time-honoured Olympic bid promises of urban regeneration and increased national sports participation.

So, as Crow extrapolates, if the president of the IOC wants to avoid further embarrassment of the citizens of the Great Cities open scorn, at least for a while, he may encourage his fellow leaders to decide the next two Olympic hosts when the IOC meet in Lima, Peru in September, 2017. As has been gossiped about for the past several months, Crow believes the IOC will select either Paris or LA for 2024, and the other one for 2028. By so doing, that would guarantee great Summer Olympic hosts throughout the 2020s, as well as avoid unwanted anti-Olympic discussion that would most certainly lead up to the 2028 process, that is currently scheduled for 2021.

Crow also speculates that the IOC may award the 2024 Summer Games to Paris, and the 2028 Summer Games to Los Angeles. Here are the three reasons why:

  • One, because an LA 2028 Games will give President Bach the ideal timing to play the American market for the IOC’s next US broadcast deal beyond NBC’s current contract.
  • Two, because it will also give Bach significant leverage in his attempts to persuade his six US-based TOP sponsors to extend their current deals, all of which end into 2020, for eight years.
  • But most of all, because it will buy Bach and the IOC both time and two key partners in its battle to find a new relevance and credibility for a new era and a new generation.

That last one is the tricky one. Can the Olympics be saved for the next generation?

Trump carries the torch in New York prior to the 2004 Olympics in Athens Bryan Bedder/Getty

Donald Trump will be the president of the United States from the beginning of 2017. The impact of this surprising and historic election will be particularly clear and significant regarding the role of government, US tax policies and decisions by the Supreme Court. Way down on the list is Trump’s impact on sport.

But this is a sports blog, so here we go.

One of the leading candidates for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games is Los Angeles. The support of US presidents has always been important to the selection committee. But rarely has the character of the president been an issue. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), the body that governs the Olympic Games and is the decision maker for which cities host the Games, is built on the values of diversity and inclusiveness. What president-elect Trump has said during the campaign could come back to haunt the US bid.

IOC president, Thomas Bach, said the following in this BBC article:

“An America that turns inward, like any country that turns inward, isn’t good for world peace, isn’t good for progress, isn’t good for all of us.” Bach also spoke in the summer about a “world of selfishness where certain people claim to be superior to others”. That was seen as a clear reference to Trump’s proposed plans that include potential restrictions on Muslim immigration and the deportation of millions of illegal immigrants.

The mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, who is a Democrat and supporter of Hillary Clinton, Trump’s rival for the presidency, said in August in this Bloomberg article, “For some of the IOC members, they would say, ‘Wait a second, can we go to a country like that, where we’ve heard things that we take offense to?”’

But another IOC member and head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Craig Reedie, put it this way. “It’s far too early to make any judgment. I would find it hard to believe everything said in a hotly contested election would come to pass. Let’s wait and see.”

There may be more practical issues the IOC may have to take into account, like who will pay for the significant security bill, according to the blog, Inside the Rings. “While Los Angeles doesn’t need the help of the White House to fund construction or other critical projects, the federal government still will need to spend as much as a $1 billion or more for security for the Games. Soon after Trump takes office in January, LA 2024 will need assurances from the new president that he is willing to make that commitment. Given the sharp political differences between Trump and the LA leadership, this is not a certainty.”

Is the American bid for 2024 in trouble? Will Paris or Budapest trump LA? Donald Trump gets inaugurated in January. The IOC votes on the selection of the 2024 Games in September. We shall see.

Peter Vidmar takes silver in the all arounds at the 1984 Olympics. Koji Gushiken of Japan took gold

Until 1984, the USA men’s gymnastics team had never won team gold at an Olympics. That breakthrough in Los Angeles was due to the efforts of team members Bart Conner, Timothy Daggett, Mitchell Gaylord, James Hartung, Scott Johnson and Peter Vidmar. Vidmar in particular shined, also garnering a gold in the pommel horse and a silver in the Individual all-around.

Vidmar is a popular motivational speaker and talks often about how he learned a lesson in Budapest, Hungary, about the importance of not only taking risk, but committing to taking risk. Those who do, often end up champions. But Vidmar, like many champions, learned this lesson the hard way. By falling.

It was 1983 and Vidmar was with his coach, Makoto Sakamoto, competing at the World Championships in Hungary. Vidmar was getting ready for his horizontal bar routine, a discipline of strength for Vidmar. But for some reason, he was having difficulty with his differentiating move, a risky set of maneuvers that would give him invaluable points for difficulty: As he explained in the book, Awaken the Olympian Within, “it called for me to swing around the bar, then let go, fly straight up over the bar into a half-turn, straddle my legs, come back down and catch the bar. Trust me, it’s hard.”

Concerned that he was not able to execute the moves during his warm up just prior to the finals, Vidmar allowed fear and indecision to creep in. He talked to his coach, who gave him straightforward advice on technique, but Vidmar was not feeling confident. He decided to drop the maneuver and forgo the potential 0.2 points. “Why not? I’d lose the two-tenths of a point for risk, but I could still score as high as a 9.8. That would put me on the winner’s rostrum for sure. That would mean a medal, maybe even a silver.” But he also realized just as quickly that dropping the move would mean losing the World Championship. After all, champions go for it, and someone else would.

This was the mental state of Vidmar as he stepped up to the horizontal bar and started his routine. And after his back flip with half-turn in the pike position he reached for the bar. And as Vidmar says, “the bar was not there.” He fell three meters to the floor, face down in the mat. He got back up, finished the routine, and ended up eighth of eight.

As his coach, Sakamoto tells it, Vidmar was not a happy camper.

During the medal presentation, I innocently asked,  “Pete, what happened?”  “What happened?” Peter responded, face red with abject disappointment.  “I’ll tell you what happened!” he continued angrily.  “I reached out to catch the bar, but the bar wasn’t there. That’s it!” He picked up his bag and stormed out of the arena in a fit of rage.  I had never seen Peter behave this way. 

Later at the hotel, Vidmar had cooled down. Sakamoto caught up with him and according to Vidmar, said this. “This is not the end. Everything is valuable experience, even competition. What you did tonight can be a valuable learning experience. You can benefit from this.”

Vidmar credits that moment as crystalizing an important learning moment for him in his road to becoming a champion. “I didn’t want to hear it but I knew he was right. That fall taught me something that I somehow hadn’t completely learned until that night: Never, ever take anything for granted. Especially don’t take risks for granted.”

Vidmar learned a lesson in committing to risk, to working hard to mastering the challenge so that the work and potential for failure is far outweighed by the reward. “I realized,” Vidmar says, “that I had made the decision to take the risk, but I had forgotten to really prepare myself for taking it! Knowing how important that particular skill was…that I couldn’t leave out that trick and still win the title, I should have been better prepared. I was certain to have to take the same risk at the Olympics and no matter how the skill might feel in warm-up, I had to commit now to taking it there as well.”

And the rest is history. Vidmar worked on that routine, overcoming fear and doubt, and stuck a perfect 10 in the horizontal bars en route to a silver medal in the All Arounds at the Los Angeles Games.