New York leaps a hurdle in race for 2012 Olympics

The sports-mad city sees its bid to host Games as a moneymaker and a way to announce, 'We're back!'

New Yorkers have been training for the Olympics all their lives: they sprint across crosswalks to save a few seconds; they haul heavy loads of groceries up five-story walk-ups; they fight each other for cabs.

Now, they are one step closer to the real Games.

On Saturday, the US Olympic Committee chose New York – which touted itself as "the world's second home" – over San Francisco to be the US nominee for the 2012 Olympics. Yes, bagels and lox beat out cioppino by the Bay.

Many New Yorkers see the Olympics as a way to help revitalize the city by building new stadiums, upgrading subway lines, and giving entire neighborhoods a face-lift. They are hoping the city's Olympics will be remembered for the extensive use of mass transit and the relative closeness of the venues.

But, most important, a New York Olympics sends a message to the world: "It shows not only to New York, not only to the country, but to the world that we're back," says David Cornstein, chairman of the New York State Olympic Games Commission.

Of course, money may have had something to do with the decision as well. New York says it plans to build new Olympic sites worth $1 billion and spend a total of $5 billion on the event. By way of comparison, San Francisco said all its venues were already in place and proposed spending $211 million.

To help sell itself, New York rolled out its big guns. On videotape were messages from Robert De Niro, Jerry Seinfeld, and Woody Allen. Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani received a standing ovation from many of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) voters and told them, "We absolutely love big events, and we will not fail you."

The city's zest for gala events of Olympic-caliber was certainly evident yesterday, when distance runners from around the world came to New York for its marathon. Two months ago, the top tennis players in the world bashed it out at the US Open. Earlier this year, international weight-lifters tried to out-heft each other here. The city is also about to host an archery world championship.

All this sweating is actually a part of New York's soul. At almost any hour of the day or night, there are runners in Central Park. Sports fitness clubs are all over the city. There are fencers from Harlem and rowers from Queens. In fact, there are more Olympians from New York than any other state, says Mr. Cornstein.

Deirdre Murphy is one of them. Two years ago, she competed in the cycling events in Sydney. "It will be so exciting to have this in my home town," she says. "We're already such an international city that everyone will feel at home here."

The city's residents are avid attendees of sports events. The New York Yankees, winners of four World Series in the last six years, drew over 3.5 million fans this year – one of the highest in the Major Leagues. Games for the New York Knicks and Rangers are usually sold out despite their lackluster seasons.

"I think the Olympic spirit embodies passion for whatever sport you play, and I don't think there is a more passionate city in the world than New York," says Shep Messing, goalkeeper for the US Olympic soccer team in 1972.

New Yorkers are also passionate about making money, so some see the prospect of a local Olympic games with dollar signs in their eyes.

"My business will benefit if the Olympics arrives," says Bill Visser, whose software company helps businesses with facilities management.

Architect Monica Rich of the architectural firm Swanke Hayden Connell says millions of dollars in design contracts will be let. "It will really rejuvenate the city," she says.

However, there are some residents of the West Side of Manhattan, where a stadium is supposed to be built, who oppose the Olympics. Envisioning traffic jams and noise, they submitted their own "Contra-Report" to the USOC.

The few negatives, however, didn't sway the USOC. Now, the city must compete against such cities as Paris, Moscow, Rio, Rome, and Berlin. The decision will be announced in 2005.

A year ago, there was speculation that New York would draw "sympathy votes" because of 9/11. Immediately after the attack, the mayor of Rome suggested that other international cities drop out if New York became the US candidate.

But, that was then. "Well, it's a year later and no one is saying anyone should drop out," says Mr. Messing, who is on New York's Committee.

If New York wins, one of the reasons will be its ability to laugh at itself.

A videotape sent to the USOC shows a typical crowded New York street corner. The crosswalk sign says, "Don't Walk." Up walks a man in track shorts. Someone turns around and stares at him while he gets into a sprinter's starting position. The sign changes to "Walk" and he sets a world record for crossing the street while the logo underneath reads, "New York, we've been training for this all our lives."

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