Wait a New York minute -- Big Apple Olympics far from done deal

Posted: Tuesday, November 05, 2002

The heart of New York's bid for the 2012 Summer Games is the ''Olympic X,'' an unfortunate phrase that carries a sense of mystery and uncertainty, and leads inevitably to the Olympic ''Why?''

Of all the gym joints in all the world, why would the International Olympic Committee want to hold the Summer Olympics in a city that natives flee at that time of year?

Why take the snarling, sprawling chaos of the games to a city that's more famous for its traffic than its trees?

Why bring an event, shadowed by terrorism since Munich in 1972, to a city that's just suffered the worst terrorist hit in history and will always be worried about another?

Why, on the other hand, does New York even want the Olympics and all the aggravation and problems that go with it?

Why take on another huge task when the city is focused on rebuilding the World Trade Center site?

Why commit $5 billion to two weeks of fun and games when the budget has been whacked by the battered economy, Wall Street's misery and the 9/11 attack?

The simple answer is: Why not?

New York can, and very well may, do it.

The city is gritty, in all its meanings -- gravelly, plucky, intense. It's got chutzpah.

Longshot or not, New York has a real chance of winning. It just might be the smartest, safest choice.

When the IOC decides in three years between New York and its many rivals -- Toronto, London, Paris, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro and undetermined cities in Germany and Spain, among the possibilities -- the Big Apple may outshine them in most of the key considerations.

New York's bid, which knocked San Francisco out of the U.S. race Saturday, is likely to be the most compact, with the athletes' village at the axis of an ''Olympic X'' that places virtually all events along its crisscrossing lines and within city limits.

Other cities may rival New York's plan for a new 86,000-seat Olympic stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies and track and field.

But no other city in the world will be able to match the fame and history of New York's other venues: Yankee Stadium for baseball, Madison Square Garden for gymnastics, Central Park for the triathlon, Giants Stadium for soccer, the home of the U.S. Open for tennis, an athletes' village looking out on the United Nations.

A Summer Games in New York would guarantee the highest TV ratings in the United States, home to the Olympics' biggest sponsors, TV rights-holders and audiences. That alone would give the IOC, whose contract with NBC expires after the 2008 Games in Beijing, hundreds of millions of reasons to vote for New York.

From a security point of view, New York in the post-9/11 era can claim to be as efficiently and thoroughly policed as any city in the world, and probably readier than most to deal with an emergency.

Gasping heat and humidity? If the Olympics could survive Barcelona and can get past Athens in two years, a couple of weeks of a New York summer shouldn't be too bad.

Traffic? Millions of people deal with it all year, and July to early August, when the Olympics would be held, is as good as it gets. High-speed ferries and a spruced-up, air-conditioned subway system could do the job, especially in a compact games.

New York doesn't need the Olympics but it is a city that thrives on challenge and growth. It is a city of jackhammers and cranes, buildings going up and coming down, a city that constantly reshapes itself and is never finished. It is a city of immigrants that has been devoted to commerce for 400 years, the wheels of change greased by competition.

Far from being daunted by the prospect of rebuilding the World Trade Center site and building for the Olympics, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, the founder of NYC2012, see them as compatible challenges. The money for each project comes from different sources, and the two together would spur growth for the next decade.

''The big impact of this bid is a catalyst,'' Doctoroff said, ''to help us get through a long and difficult rebuilding process. People need deadlines and goals, and this creates one.''

New York still has plenty of obstacles to overcome, not the least of which are its own image and international resentment toward the United States at a time of heightened global tensions.

The IOC left the last Summer Games in the United States -- Atlanta in 1996 -- grumbling over its tacky commercialism and arrogant, inefficient leadership. The bid scandal in Salt Lake City hardened attitudes against Americans.

But both were pretty much put in the past by the success at Salt Lake City when the Winter Games finally came.

Bob Ctvrlik, a former U.S. Olympic volleyball player, is one IOC member who doesn't buy into the theory that the group is anti-American. Salt Lake City, he said, changed their minds.

New York may change a lot more minds in the IOC by the time it gets around to voting, and this may be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Steve Wilstein is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at swilstein@ap.org

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