This guest post was written by my extremely clever friend, fellow Olympics fan and USC Master’s of Public Diplomacy student David Mandel.
I’ll have you know this is difficult to write. I wanted to be objective; I wanted to stay above the pride and just give you some impersonal, easy-to-digest material about Olympic cities. Clearly, that’s not going to happen.
Maybe I should start again.
The 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin was a pretty uneventful occasion. I think the most salient take-away for most foreign fans was that ‘Turin’ and ‘Torino’ is the same place. Still, I have the most vivid memory of watching those games, and more intensely, watching the majestic crane and swoop shots of the picturesque city that buttressed all the coverage. I thought, wow, what a thing for all the world to be shown that beautiful place in such a remarkable way.
I had always loved the Olympics: the pageantry, the meaning, the sheer force of the Olympics’ exertion upon my cultural landscape created in my impressionable mind a sense that the Olympics were the ultimate occasion.
It was then, in the aftermath of Turin, that my rather innocent infatuation with the Olympics became something decidedly more intoxicating. I thought: perhaps in the near future my two great loves, the Olympics and my home city of Chicago, might be united and provide me a televisual self-love nirvana for a few weeks in 2016.
I think I might have predated the official Chicago 2016 bid by a couple of months.
Following the bid became an obsession for me; I tried every summer to find a job working for them and proselytized to every (non)interested person who would listen about the greatness of Chicago and all the reasons it would be the host city. I fantasized about the breathless descriptions of Chicago’s beauty, about the hometown president saluting his city, about the “Paris on the Prairie” reclaiming its 1893 reputation as the exemplar of urban excellence.
When, one October morning, I updated my browser page in the middle of Econ 2a, I found that Chicago had been eliminated in the first round of voting. Just like that.
I was crushed; more upset than any grown man should admit to about such an esoteric thing. My years of unhealthy devotion to the cause had ended in sudden betrayal. ‘Rio 2016’ stung in my ears. For two years I avoided coverage of the Olympics, still too angry—jealous—to confront my former mistress. Although, I gleefully read all of the journalistic worrying about Rio’s capabilities, prejudiced as I was to root against the place.
Now, in the incipience of London 2012, I have to move on. I cannot hold my grudge against London, a favorite city of mine and the most deserving place to become the first three-time Olympic host.
Rio 2016, a name which still invokes from me some pangs of disappointment, is a different matter. Unlike London, Rio 2016 is a coming-out party for Brazil. Like Mexico City, Tokyo, Seoul, Barcelona and Beijing before it, Rio 2016 is recognition—an opportunity for a rising power to solidify its stance among the community of nations. If my home-town pride is strong enough to cause my embarrassing reaction, imagine the feelings of cariocas and other Brazilians as they prepare to introduce themselves to the world.
All of this begins to explain some of the fanatical attitudes towards the Olympics. Not all fans care about place in the way I do. Most may not even think about the tremendous advantages hosting a successful games can bring. But, it is impossible to be a fan of the Olympics and divorce yourself from pride, whether for your country, your city or your favorite athlete.
Still, I will watch the games this summer. And read about them before. Hey, I even managed to write about them a little bit. I will accept all of the televisual accoutrements and all the breathless fawning. I will try to put my fandom over my pride, even if I sometimes fail.
I recently heard there’s a new movement to bring the games to Chicago in 2024. A recently signed contract between the USOC and the IOC resolved the tension that was the source of the 2016 snub. I may have been fooled once but my love of both home and the Olympics is foolish; so I’ll know whom to blame if fooled again.