One of the beautiful things about the Olympics is that the runners-up get prizes, too.
Which brings us to Los Angeles.
The second choice in its own country to host the 2024 Summer Games took the second-place prize in the international race, too — essentially agreeing to cede 2024 to Paris and accept the consolation prize, which, in this case, is the Olympics four years after that.
A city landing the Olympics used to spark parties in the street. This week, the news slowly leaked out of the International Olympic Committee headquarters and from city hall in LA, where it was met with about as much fanfare as a broken-down car being towed off the 405 at rush hour.
This has been a joyless, process-defying, mistake-riddled exercise that will be formalized six weeks from now in Peru, with the winners and losers already long decided.
Hard to really pick on LA, though. Thanking them would be more appropriate.
After the humiliations of Chicago for 2016 and New York for 2012, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s rejections of San Francisco and Washington for the current race and the clueless handwringing the USOC went through with its first choice, Boston, the fact that any major U.S. city, let alone one with LA’s cachet, was still willing to put itself out there, absorb the cost of the bidding process, and still say “yes” to 2028 is, well, kind of remarkable.
The LA bidders did the USOC a favor after its board pointedly rejected them, instead choosing Boston, as if the board members, after a year’s worth of vetting, were the only ones on earth who didn’t know that Boston is known as the city that won’t take ‘Yes’ for an answer.
After Boston bailed, Los Angeles gladly stepped in and played all the games the way the IOC wanted them played: Most of its venues are built, it promises to keep costs down and adhere to IOC president Thomas Bach’s vision of less-grandiose, less-expensive, less-bloated Games.
Now, it will take 11 years — instead of the usual seven — to see which promises are kept and which are broken.
That’s 11 years for the USOC leaders to send thank-you cards; one of their main missions has been to bring the Summer Olympics back to the United States for the first time since 1996, and they have done that, albeit four years later than planned.
And that’s 11 years for Bach to send as many flowers as possible to Los Angeles.
He had to have been embarrassed by the slow dropping out of candidate cities that left the 2024 race with only two bidders: Paris and Los Angeles. Bach decided to change the bidding process and award the next two games this year because, in his words, the status quo produced too many losers — even though, deep down, he may have known the biggest loser under the existing system would’ve been him.
The 2028 bidding could have come down to Toronto (safe if not scintillating), South Africa (If the problems in second-world Brazil didn’t teach the IOC a lesson, what ever will?) and Russia, a country whose doping violations have made it a pariah to much of the Western sports world outside of IOC headquarters in Lausanne.
Not wanting to see that contest take place on his watch, Bach changed the rules.
The IOC will give a king’s ransom — to the tune of at least $1.8 billion — to Los Angeles in exchange for this compromise. Some will go toward funding youth sports in the city and some will be wrangled over with the USOC, which has given away a lot of cash and swallowed a lot of pride to improve international relations over the last eight years. Whatever the IOC pays won’t be enough.
Los Angeles bailed out the Olympic movement in 1984, when Tehran was the only interested bidder and the previous three games had been devastated by terrorism (Munich), red ink (Montreal) and a boycott (Moscow). Peter Ueberroth’s vision put the modern-day model in place, turning the Olympics into a mass-marketed, slickly sponsored event that is now worth tens of billions.
The Summer Olympics became a crown jewel of sports thanks to the 1984 Games, and hosting them put your city at the top of the list of world’s greatest destinations.
Not true anymore. Everything from cost overruns to terrible traffic, pollution, human-rights abuses and mosquito-borne illness in places as wide ranging as Atlanta, Athens, Beijing and Rio de Janeiro punctured the myth of the Great Olympic City.
No major, democratic, Western metropolis wanted to host these games anymore.
Except Paris — a city that doesn’t need the Olympics to be great — which will step back into the fold exactly 100 years after it last played the role of host.
And Los Angeles — a city that doesn’t need the Olympics to be glamorous — which seemed perfectly willing to take any prize that came its way.
In this case, the prize feels a lot like an Olympic silver medal: It gets you on the podium, even if it’s not in the exact spot you’d always dreamed of.