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New York Olympics a longshot without new stadium

Posted: Friday, February 18, 2005

The Big Apple is all dressed up and ready to go. Central Park is decorated, Olympic banners and ads are everywhere, and Donald Trump's hair is firmly in place.

The people who decide where the Olympics go come to town Sunday night to take a final look around before deciding which sucker — er, city will be lucky enough to shell out billions of dollars for 17 days of fun and games in 2012.

Never mind that they've got an Olympic-sized hangover in Athens, where they're trying to figure out how to pay the $14.6 billion bill run up for last year's games. Forget that Australian taxpayers are still paying out $34 million a year to subsidize underused venues from the 2000 games.

Hosting an Olympics is serious business, with serious bragging rights. That's why Olympic committee members are dining with the queen Friday night at Buckingham Palace, and will travel by horse drawn carriage from their hotel next week to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's residence for a meal with the mayor, Trump and others.

It's also a big reason why New York, London, Paris, Madrid and Moscow are all chasing the games despite the checkered history of Olympics past (think Atlanta).

The bid cities have already presented grand and expensive plans to the International Olympic Committee, which tends to like things that are both grand and expensive. They all promise new arenas and stadiums will be built, transportation will be upgraded and security issues resolved.

In Paris, they'll play beach volleyball under the Eiffel Tower, while in London tennis will be contested on the grass courts at Wimbledon. Moscow will cluster events along the Moscow River, and the famed Santiago Bernabeu stadium will be a central venue in Madrid.

New York, of course, thinks even bigger.

How about baseball at Yankee Stadium, the triathlon in Central Park and basketball at Madison Square Garden? See the Empire State Building bathed in the national colors of competing countries, and watch the equestrian events on Staten Island.

Those are the images New York organizers want desperately to leave on the 13-member IOC evaluation committee during its brief stay in the city. They're spending some $3 million on next week's presentation alone, part of a $50 million tab just to try and win the games.

The IOC inspectors won't be able to miss thousands of Olympic ads on taxis, buses and subways as the travel from site to site. They'll see the public rally at Rockefeller Center, and visit the various venues.

Here's some advice, though, for NYC2012 organizers when the committee exits Madison Square Garden and heads down the street to the Hell's Kitchen area: Drive fast, and talk even faster.

No, the Irish mobsters who used to frequent the area aren't around anymore. But there's an Olympics' worth of trouble brewing around a desolate train yard that is the centerpiece of the whole New York 2012 plan.

That's where a 75,000-seat stadium is supposed to be built to give the New York Jets a new home and serve as the main Olympic stadium. All parties were near agreement on a sweetheart deal that now looks as if it was too sweet for its own good.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's land deal began unraveling last week when operators of Madison Square Garden — fearful of losing convention and sports events to the new development — said they would pay $600 million to build a residential development on the land.

Now, the MTA says it will open the land up for sale to the highest bidder, possibly thwarting the most carefully laid plans of NYC2012 at the worst time possible.

Bloomberg vowed earlier this week that when he travels to Singapore for the IOC vote on July 6, there will be a shovel in the ground on the stadium site. But he acknowledged it ''could be a symbolic shovel,'' which probably looks a lot like a symbolic stadium.

Bloomberg needs more than symbolism to win this one. Even before the latest debacle, Paris was widely considered the frontrunner to win the games, with English bookmakers making the city a 2-9 favorite followed by London at 7-2, Madrid 14-1, New York 16-1 and Moscow 50-1.

Though the Brits always fancy an underdog, New Yorkers don't like to be second best, much less fourth. But with stadium troubles and any hope of picking up 9-11 sympathy votes now long forgotten, the best organizers can do is hope the first ballot produces no winner and they can pick up enough second choice votes in ensuing ballots to pull off an upset win.

That's an unlikely scenario at best, though stranger things have certainly happened within the walls of the IOC. Unfortunately, even Trump can't help buy these games, thanks to new rules on the size of gifts the IOC put in place after the Salt Lake City bid scandal.

For a few days next week, New York will do its best to look the part of an Olympic city. The city even has a new slogan, ''The World's Second Home.''

Catchy, but slogans don't build stadiums. And they don't win Olympic Games.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org



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