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Los Angeles May Have Been A Safer Bet Than Boston For Olympics Bid


Bostonians like to call their town the hub of the universe. Well, in 2024, they might have to settle for the less lofty title of Olympic host. Last night, in a surprise move, the United States Olympic Committee chose Boston as its bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Boston beat out San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. And joining me from NPR West is historian and expert on all things Olympics, David Wallechinsky. Welcome to the program once again.

DAVID WALLECHINSKY: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: One city that lost to Boston here, Los Angeles, has hosted the Summer Olympics twice before. Wouldn't LA have been a much safer choice for the USOC? Why Boston?

WALLECHINSKY: I actually think that Los Angeles would have been a safer bet. Remember that fewer than 100 people are going to vote on which city in the world actually hosts the 2024 Olympics. And people in the IOC - the members have warm feelings about Los Angeles because the 1984 Olympics went well and actually saved the Olympic movement by creating a financial model for future games. I'm not really sure why they went with Boston. It has a good time zone. But, from the international perspective, it's somewhat of an unknown. I mean, it has a great sports reputation, but most of that is irrelevant on the international level. If you're from Africa, Asia, even Europe, you're not going to really know about the Patriots or, you know, the Red Sox.

SIEGEL: Even the Red Sox, yes (laughter).

WALLECHINSKY: Yeah, you're not going to know about the Red Sox. But you would know about the Celtics and you would definitely know about the Boston Marathon.

SIEGEL: Now, part of the pitch by Boston was that it could produce the games on the cheap. It's a walkable city, lots of public transportation, lots of sports facilities ready to go in the area. But do we know the history of the cost of hosting an Olympics? Can they really be done on the cheap at all?

WALLECHINSKY: Let me see. In one word - no.

SIEGEL: (Laughter) That's the long answer you're saying?

WALLECHINSKY: Yeah. That's the short and the long answer - is no. And also, whatever they tell you it's going to cost, it's going to cost way more. I'm not saying this specifically about Boston, but the entire history of the Olympics is like that.

SIEGEL: What other cities worldwide would be competing before the International Olympic Committee to get the 2024 summer games?

WALLECHINSKY: We know that Rome will be bidding. We know that a German city, either Berlin or Hamburg, will be bidding, probably Paris. There may be others. But the real heavy entries will be from Germany, Paris and Rome.

SIEGEL: What do you think? Recent bids by New York and by Chicago to host Olympics failed pretty miserably during the IOC's final selection process. How would you rate Boston's chances this time around?

WALLECHINSKY: I would say that Boston has an uphill battle. You have to keep in mind that this is not a public election where there's, you know, TV ads and so forth. You're just appealing to, you know, about 95 or 100 people who are going to vote, and it's their quirks, their interests, where they like to have dinner, where they're going to be feted well. And, you know, Boston is going to have a tough sell, you know, to compare to, say, Paris. I will say that what's interesting about the Boston bid is that the official bids don't have to go in until September, and the vote won't be for another two-and-a half years. So Boston has a great chance to define itself. I know that if I were the Boston organizers, one thing I would definitely be pitching is that the very first Olympic champion of the modern games was from Boston. James Connolly was a student at Harvard. He asked permission to leave school to go to these Olympic Games that he'd read about - 1896. He was refused. He dropped out, paid his own way, thanks to money from an athletic club and a bake sale of his local church, and he was the very first Olympic champion, you know, since, you know, the fourth century. And he won what we would now call the triple jump, and there's actually a statue to him in Boston.

SIEGEL: David Wallechinsky, thanks a lot.


SIEGEL: That's writer David Wallechinsky, who is president of the International Society of Olympic Historians. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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