Thousands of people stood in bewildered silence in downtown Chicago today after the International Olympic Committee surprised everyone by dumping the city from the race for 2016 Summer Olympics in the first round of voting.
The vote in Copenhagen was carried on huge television screens set up in the Daley Center to carry what many had hoped would be approval of Chicago as the host city. It had seemed so likely to many in a city still basking in the glow of hometown Sen. Barack Obama's election as president.
Instead, Chicago was bounced in the first round, bringing an audible gasp from the crowd. The elimination came so quickly — more than an hour before the scheduled final announcement — that people were still excitedly talking among themselves when IOC President Jacques Rogge appeared in the screens to announce: "The city of Chicago, having obtained the least number of votes, will not participate in the next round."
Many weren't sure what Rogge had said, and turned to each other to ask. Some just stood for a few minutes, staring at the screens, and at least one flung his hands into the air in a crude gesture toward the TVs. Within seconds, people began filing out of the plaza.
Behind them, the screen listed the cities still in contention Madrid, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro, with a blank space where the word "Chicago" had been moments earlier.
"I've never really had a disappointment like this," said Ken Rudd, a 33-year-old salesman from Evergreen Park. "This is one of the saddest things I've ever seen."
Katie Suitor, a 28-year-old social worker, was equally surprised, saying that she had already signed up to work as a volunteer for the games.
"I was looking forward to having the world come and see just how great Chicago is," she said.
The IOC decision was a major blow to Mayor Richard M. Daley, who spent three years working, cajoling and insisting that the games would be a boon for his city. The 67-year-old Daley, who has been in office for 20 years, was already grappling with low approval ratings, though it was an open question whether a winning Olympics bid would help or hurt those numbers.
The IOC had traditionally partnered with governments where strong leaders like Daley are in control. That wasn't the case here and the Olympics will likely not be part of Daley's legacy.
The Chicago bid had plenty of homegrown firepower, from Oprah Winfrey right on up to Obama and the first lady, South Side native Michelle Obama. All were in Copenhagen ahead of the vote and the first couple gave presentations to the IOC earlier Friday, though the president left hourse before the voting began.
Randy Wood, 49, of San Diego said the IOC clearly wasn't swayed by Obama's influence.
"Maybe his clout stopped at the Pacific and the Atlantic," said Wood, who said the early elimination reflects poorly on the president.
With Chicago well-known for public corruption and problems with public services, opponents had serious concerns about Olympics-sized hassles and bills, despite assurances by city officials that taxpayers wouldn't owe a dime.
A recent poll by the Chicago Tribune showed residents almost evenly split, with 47 percent in favor of the bid and 45 percent against; that's a drop from the 2-1 support the newspaper found in a February poll. The 2016 bid committee said its own poll last week found support from 72 percent of Chicagoans.
The news that Chicago had been eliminated was greeted with surprise in Rio.
"Wow, we never thought Chicago would get out in the first round," said 29-year-old Rio resident Leandro Cruz, one of tens of thousands of people gathered on Copacabana beach. "Everybody thought it would be Chicago and Rio until the very end."Reuse content