October 6, 2009

Early Olympics loss beats students to class

As the rest of the world waited with baited breath to hear the winner of the 2016 Olympic bid, most University of Chicago students, just blocks away from potential Olympic facilities, were either in bed or in class.

Many expected the first family’s surprise visit to the Copenhagen deliberations would ensure Chicago’s position as a top contender and planned on turning to their media outlet of choice around 11:30 a.m., when the final winner would be announced. Instead, the city’s bid was eliminated in the first round of voting, by 10:30 a.m.

Second-year Liss Weldon was one of 30 students in Hutch Commons watching the results come in. Weldon had come to Hutch expecting that the vote would be held late in the morning, but when she arrived just after 10:30 a.m., she saw shot after shot of dejected Chicagoans. “I was more surprised, not upset,” Weldon said. “For the past two years, I’d kind of gotten the impression it was a sure thing.”

Luiz Filipe Serravite Ferreira, a second-year from Rio, was watching in Hutch when the city was announced as the host of the 2016 Olympic Games.

“I was extremely happy for and proud of my country,” Ferreira said in an e-mail. “I think it is our turn now to show to the rest of the world that Brazil is more than just samba, soccer, and beautiful women.”

Conner Muldoon, a CAPS employee assigned to monitor the screens, said there were 125 to 150 students present when the winner was announced, and that half were watching the ceremony. He suggested more would have been watching had Chicago not been eliminated an hour earlier.

Math graduate student Benjamin Leider had not come to see the announcement but started watching when he noticed the screens. Leider said he wasn’t as disappointed as others shown on TV. “I’m not from around here, so I had no great investment in it, but it would have been nice,” he said.

University spokesman Jeremy Manier said that despite helping the bid through its planning stages, the U of C did not have a position on the Olympics coming to Chicago. “The focus,” he said in an e-mail, “was ensuring that, if the games came here, they would produce long-term benefits for the entire community.”

Earlier this year, the U of C offered Stagg Field and Ratner Athletics Center as warm-up facilities for the Olympics. University spokesman Bob Rosenberg then said the University was in favor of Chicago hosting the 2016 Olympics, comparing the prospect of the Olympics to the effect of Barack Obama’s candidacy on Hyde Park.

The U of C has been involved in the Olympic bid for years. University President Robert Zimmer sat on the Chicago 2016 Exploratory Committee, and the University participated in community input meetings as the committee moved forward in choosing a city.

Early in 2007, University Vice President for Community Affairs Hank Webber said the University endorsed the proposal, in part because of potential improvements in transportation and general neighborhood rejuvenation the Olympics might have brought.

Ann Marie Lipinski, vice president for civic engagement and Webber’s successor, said in an e-mail yesterday the city’s attention to neighborhood improvement would continue long after the bid was defeated. “The real disappointment would be if the civic impulse and planning that went into the bid were also lost....That momentum should not be lost and there are many at the University who will continue to work with our neighbors and the city to advance the best ideas.”

However, the Olympic Games might have brought financial commitments too great for Chicago to bear.

Allen Sanderson, a senior lecturer in the economics department and a sports economics expert, has repeatedly maintained the Olympics would not revitalize the South Side, as Lipinski and many of the Games’ proponents argued.

“You don’t throw a big block party, which is what the Olympics are, and then say, ‘Oh, by the way, we’ll revitalize the neighborhood,’” Sanderson said in a September 30 Sports Illustrated article. “Tails ought not to wag dogs.”