Pressure Is On, U.S. Olympic Officials In Chicago

Tuesday, March 6th 2007, 8:21 pm
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ The city isn't just selling sports venues, a stadium and an athletes' village to the U.S. Olympic Committee.

It's also selling the very idea of Chicago _ a Midwestern city once known for its famous gangsters _ as a world-class destination to host a global sporting event.

Former Olympian Bob Berland said that's not a tough task for the Chicago bid committee, which wraps up two days of meetings with an 11-member U.S. Olympic Committee inspection team Wednesday.

``I think Chicago is a very, very easy story to tell. We're a Cinderella story. We really are,'' said Berland, a 1984 silver medalist in judo who is co-chairman of the bid committee's athlete advisory group.

The city's Olympic boosters will have to wait until April 14 to see how they did. That's when the USOC is expected to choose between Chicago and Los Angeles as the American bidder for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The International Olympic Committee won't select the host until 2009. Other expected bidders include Madrid, Spain; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Rome; and Tokyo.

A big part of Chicago's sell-job is the philanthropic power of its business community, which already has raised $30 million toward the effort and would have to pony up more if the city wins the U.S. bid and then is awarded the games.

Besides the nuts-and-bolts of the venues in its bid, Chicago also is relying on its multicultural history to be a lure, along with its sports enthusiasm and cultural offerings.

But there's something even more basic Mayor Richard M. Daley says the city has to offer.

``Our residents are friendly,'' he told inspection team members Tuesday as he welcomed them to a daylong meeting at Soldier Field _ the home of the Chicago Bears _ where they would dissect and study the city's bid.

Chicago officials weren't shy about turning up the star power for the event with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama lending his support in a videotaped message to the inspection team.

``Chicago is more than just a city in the middle of America, Chicago is the heart of America,'' the Illinois senator said.

There's also Chicago's all-out campaign to show off its Olympic spirit. The city nighttime skyline is lit with Olympic messages on buildings and shirts bearing the city's slogan _ ``Chicago 2016 _ Stir The Soul'' _ are in stores.

Still, Chicago faces questions about its readiness for the games because, unlike Los Angeles, the city would have to build many of its Olympic sites, including a stadium and an Olympic Village.

But Chicago has countered that it's planning an Olympic Games that would be concentrated mostly around the downtown lakefront, making it easier to get around than sprawling Los Angeles.

Chicago plans to build a $366 million, 80,000-seat temporary stadium in a South Side park and a $1.1 billion lakefront athletes' village.

Los Angeles is vying for its third Summer Olympics, having been the 1932 and 1984 host.

Olympic officials got a look at one of Chicago's venues Tuesday because Soldier Field would host the soccer competition. The inspection team arrived at the lakefront stadium sporting black, evaluation-team parkas on a blustery, frigid morning.

The stadium was ready, with the playing field adorned with the city's signature Olympics logo _ a torch with a flame in the shape of a skyline.

The USOC inspection team will have the chance to see more of the city Wednesday when they tour venues and proposed sites where others would be built.