Toronto making all-out bid to host centennial Olympics in 1996

Just because the modern Olympics began in Athens in 1896 doesn't mean that city should necessarily expect to get the Olympics 100 years later. That's the theme song in Toronto, which intends to push hard to secure the '96 games and is counting on Olympic officials to be open minded. ``If it wasn't for the 100th anniversary, Toronto would win easily,'' said a confident-sounding Paul F. Henderson, chairman of the Toronto Ontario Olympic Council, during remarks here at the 10th Pan American Games.

Henderson, who was in town to lend credibility and visibility to Toronto's efforts, said his group is not blind to the sentiment that favors Athens. It trusts Olympic officials not to let emotion override reason.

``We believe the International Olympic Committee [IOC] members are very intelligent human beings and they will make the decision on what is in the best interest of the Olympic movement,'' he said.

The decision won't be made until September 1990.

Thus far, Toronto and Belgrade have been the only two cities bold enough to officially throw their hats in the ring. Athens' entry is considered a mere formality, and that has the effect of discouraging others from joining in.

Mounting a serious bid, after all, is a costly and time-consuming proposition. About 40 Canadian corporations have contributed more than $5 million to the Toronto effort, which is focusing on one-to-one lobbying of 94 IOC members.

The objective is to give each of these individuals a firsthand opportunity to see what Toronto presents. They'll get free trips and be entertained royally, a system that has been criticized as an extravagance, but a fact of life the Canadian group is prepared for.

A key selling point is the closeness of the proposed facilities. ``Because of the configuration of our city, we would have the most compact games ever held, at least in recent years,'' says Henderson, an Olympic yachtsman in 1964 and '68 and coach in '72.

Most sports would be held within about 15 miles of each other. The few exceptions, such as wrestling in Kitchener (70 miles away) and modern pentathlon in London (118 miles), wouldn't be unusual for this sort of competition. Even the just-completed Pan Am Games, for example, had a cycling road race 60 miles south of Indianapolis and yachting on Lake Michigan 150 miles north of here.

Basically all the needed facilities in Toronto are either built, under construction, or in the proposal stage. About the only structure missing from the master plan is a cycling velodrome, which presents problems for many would-be Olympic hosts.

The jewel of the games would most likely be the Sky Dome, a multipurpose stadium now under construction and featuring the world's largest retractable roof. It is due to be completed in 1989.

With an adjustable seating configuration of 30,000 to 70,000, the eventual home of major league baseball's Toronto Blue Jays can house a variety of events including soccer, baseball, tennis, volleyball, basketball, and the opening and closing ceremonies.

And just about a mile down the road is Exhibition Stadium, where the track and field competition and some other events would be held. Some 40,000 temporary seats would be added to this stadium for the duration of the games, bringing its capacity to between 90,000 and 100,000.

Besides being a very clean, attractive, and cosmopolitan city, Toronto has one of the finest subway systems in North America. It is also ideally situated to attract Canadian and American spectators and allow for extensive live TV coverage in North America.

One cloud may be the memory of the financial problems besetting Montreal when it held the '76 games.

Calgary, of course, could help erase memories of that experience during next February's Winter Olympics. The summer games, however, are larger, and so the Toronto group has tried to learn from what Montreal did. A 500-page report indicates that those games were well conceived, and in fact a pacesetter in terms of coin and stamp sales and corporate sponsorships. Where things fell apart was in containing capital costs.

``If we can keep the costs under control like Los Angeles, we should be in super shape,'' says Henderson.

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