DENVER — When the leaders of the U.S. Olympic Committee meet Thursday, they'll be deciding on more than a city to put in the running to host the 2024 Summer Games. They'll be picking a partner that will help shape their future.
Leaders from Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington made presentations last month and will not be present while the 15 USOC board members debate the pros and cons of each offering at their meeting inside the terminal at Denver International Airport.
The board is expected to make a decision at this meeting, and when it's over, the USOC's mission will become a broader one. Yes, the No. 1 focus is giving athletes resources to get to the medal stand. But an Olympic bid is also a chance to evaluate the USOC's work in shoring up international relations, and that may quickly overshadow everything else.
The decision the USOC members are making is about more than weather, cool new venues and a catchy slogan. It's about showing international leaders they understand the International Olympic Committee's vision, including the new direction IOC president Thomas Bach pointed toward in his batch of reforms called “Agenda 2020,” which is supposed to make the Olympics a more sleek, flexible and, in the best-case scenario, less-expensive endeavor.
“It's an extraordinary partnership,” said Robert Fasulo, an international sports consultant who served as chief of international relations for the USOC. “The USOC has to be confident they have the right people, who are sharing their vision and the IOC's vision, and sharing their goals and understand the importance of this.”
Here's a look at the four cities and key leaders behind each proposal:
BOSTON: The city's leadership team is spearheaded by construction magnate John Fish — not a flashy name outside of New England, but a well-connected businessman with experience in getting projects done. Boston has a plan that would lean on the cadre of colleges and universities in the metro area. It has some of the best sports tradition in the country, including the internationally renowned Boston Marathon. It also has a history of not delivering well on big projects — see, The Big Dig. Question: How to ensure local harmony when you were the only city that had protesters on site of the USOC meeting where the presentations were made?
LOS ANGELES: Superagent Casey Wasserman is the big name here, though by some accounts, mayor Eric Garcetti made the biggest splash at the presentation. Los Angeles is trying for its third Olympics and ran its campaign that way. But will that message come off as, “We've Got Experience” or “Been There, Done That?” More than a quarter of the USOC board members have deep ties to Los Angeles, as does former chairman Peter Ueberroth, whose success in revitalizing the Olympic movement at the 1984 Games in L.A. still holds currency in the minds of some in the movement. Questions: Would a refurbished L.A. Coliseum still be a viable centerpiece, and how does Stan Kroenke's freshly publicized proposal to build an NFL stadium play into all of this?
SAN FRANCISCO: Giants president Larry Baer has been out front in the quest to bring the Olympics to San Francisco. There are many people who dream of placing the crown jewel of sporting events in this city. But politics and protests are unpredictable here. High tech and high style is San Francisco's pitch. Some dream of boat races running under the Golden Gate Bridge and golf at Pebble Beach. Others see dollar signs — lots of them — and hours on buses for an Olympics that, by necessity, would be sprawling. Question: For a city that unexpectedly dropped out of the domestic campaign for 2016 because of an imploded stadium deal, is it OK to be unsure of where are your Opening Ceremonies and track and field events will be held?
WASHINGTON: One headliner is former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who commissioned a study that called for changes at the USOC after its last bout of turmoil a few years ago. Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis is another big name. USOC leaders have long talked about finding ways to get the federal government more involved despite its ban on direct funding. Some believe the IOC wants to be a worldwide player more than just three weeks every two years, and what better place to do that than a city where the news cycle never ends? Question: Are Olympic leaders comfortable partnering with a city that has been historically harsh on them and would keep a steady glare on them for years?