CHICAGO Chicago isn't the front-runner for the 2016 Olympics many are making it out to be. It's not even a close second.
With two years before the vote for the 2016 host, Chicago is third or fourth on the list of favorites, U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Peter Ueberroth said Thursday. Ahead of Chicago are Madrid, Spain; Tokyo; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
"It's not a criticism, it's a reality," Ueberroth said after meeting with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. "There's no criticism of Chicago 2016. I'm not saying they're doing anything wrong. I'm telling you they're in third or fourth place."
Baku, Azerbaijan; Doha, Qatar; and Prague, Czech Republic, also are bidding for the Summer Olympics. The International Olympic Committee will choose the host city Oct. 2, 2009, at its session in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Ueberroth's comments came as no surprise to Chicago 2016 organizers.
"As a bid we haven't and we won't get into discussion about handicapping the race. That's not for us to do," said Patrick Sandusky, spokesman for the organizing committee. "We have to stay focused on what our actual plans are and how we're selling our bid to the right people.
"Peter's comments are indicative of what a tight race this will be."
Chicago was thought to be the early favorite in the 2016 race, because the United States hasn't hosted a Summer Olympics since Atlanta in 1996. Although there's no official policy of rotating the games, Asia (Beijing) and Europe (London) will have just hosted Summer Olympics.
Chicago also has a solid bid, with venues located in a compact area downtown, many on picturesque Lake Michigan.
But all the cities will present strong bids, Ueberroth said. Chicago needs to sell itself to the 100-plus IOC members, and it needs to be doing it now.
Madrid has a head start because it bid for the 2012 Games, finishing ahead of London in an early round of voting. Rio hosted a successful Pan American Games this summer, with about half of the IOC voters visiting during the two-week event.
Tokyo has a strong ally in Chiharu Igaya, a longtime IOC member who led the evaluation committee for the 2014 Winter Olympics bids.
"Politicking doesn't have, in my view, the right connotations," Ueberroth said. "You have to care about and develop real friendships globally if you're going to be successful in the Olympic movement.
"The USOC, for a number of years, ignored that. The USOC was not a good partner," Ueberroth said. "We've made improvements. But we've got a lot more improvements to make."
There are strict limits on the contact Olympic and bid committees can have with IOC members. But Ueberroth suggested the many multinational companies based in Chicago could be used to tout the city's advantages to IOC members in the places where they do business.
"We've had great support" from the private sector, Sandusky said. "We look at Chicago's business community as a fantastic asset for us."
Chicago also needs to make a good impression later this month, when it hosts the world boxing championships. At least 20 IOC members are expected to attend the two-week event, and many more will get a look at Chicago as an Olympic city through the eyes of their country's athletes.
More than 600 boxers from 114 countries are expected for the world championships, which serves as the qualifier for next summer's Beijing Olympics.
"It's going to be the first place that Chicago gets a real international focus," Ueberroth said. "Say you have a voter in a country who is a devoted sports person and doesn't come here. But their boxing team comes back and says, 'We've never been treated better.' ... They say, 'Wow."'
Though Chicago may be lagging behind Madrid, Rio and Tokyo right now, Ueberroth said there's no reason it can't make up ground over the next two years.
"We all have to remember to keep focused on what we're in this for," Ueberroth said. "We're in this to get 60 votes. Then we can focus on putting on the best Olympic Games."