President Barack Obama watches a fencing demonstration with Olympic fencers on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Sept. 16, 2009, during an event supporting Chicago's 2016 host city Olympic bid.
President Barack Obama watches a fencing demonstration with Olympic fencers on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Sept. 16, 2009, during an event supporting Chicago's 2016 host city Olympic bid. Charles Dharapak/AP
Until President Obama held a White House rally this week for Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Olympics, I hadn't realized how much I want my city to be chosen.
Chicago was supposed to get the 1904 Olympics, to herald how it rose from the ashes of the Chicago Fire. St. Louis spirited them away.
Chicago's image as the home of hot jazz and cold-blooded gangsters kept it from Olympic bids in the 1920s and '30s. Berlin got the Games in 1936, when I guess Nazis were considered more respectable than mobsters.
After the war, London (1948), Rome (1960) and Tokyo (1964) got the Games to show how they rose from the ashes of war. In the '70s and '80s, the memory of Chicago police bashing protesters during the 1968 Democratic Convention made a bid impossible.
Chicago is considered to have a good chance now. The stars may be aligned: Oprah, Michael Jordan and the Obamas. Over the past generation, the city has acquired an air of glamor, added to the grit to get big things done. Chicago's long stretch of park and lakefront would give the Games a glittering backdrop, like Rio, and plenty of room for playing venues that wouldn't displace millions of people, as they did in Beijing.
Rio is considered the closest competition to Chicago, and I love that city. Wondrous music, sultry beaches and gorgeous, friendly people.
But anyone who has reported stories in Rio can tell you: time there is regarded casually. If you agree to meet someone at 2, you may not see them until 5, because they had something more interesting to do, and believe me, in Rio, there are lots of interesting things. Ten thousand athletes from around the world could land in Rio, and not be able to find civic officials because they're playing beach volleyball.
"Wow, 2016 already? We've still got stadiums to build. And rinse sand out of our thongs. Can we try this next year?"
There are good, hard questions about how much it costs to host the Olympic Games. You can always think of more enduring ways to spend public money, including hospitals and schools.
But I've met people in Atlanta, Beijing and Sarajevo who consider the weeks that the Olympic Games were in their city to be a golden time when the world looked their way, and they welcomed the world. Who wouldn't want a city you love to be touched like that by history?
Chicago has another asset, like London did when it got the 2012 Games four years ago: the city reveals the world. My old high school, Nicholas Senn, has students from 60 countries, who speak 30 different languages. Kids born in Cambodia rub shoulders with kids from Kosovo, Cracow — or Kansas.
The Olympic Games would bring the world to Rio, Tokyo, or Madrid, for a few weeks. But Chicago already reflects the world.