Could Portland go for Olympic gold in 2024?
PORTLAND — The cities and the years are almost synonymous. Sochi 2014. London 2012. Atlanta 1996.
Can you say, "Portland 2024"?
The region could be a site of international Olympic competition 10 years from now, after Boston last month advanced to the short list of U.S. cities that may host the Summer Games of 2024.
On June 13, the United States Olympic Committee, which governs the country's participation in the games, announced it had narrowed the list of U.S. cities it may propose as the 2024 host to just four: Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
The committee originally considered 35 cities as hosts, in a process that lasted more than a year. After research and discussions all but six were eliminated. In June, Dallas and San Diego were dropped from the list, leaving the final four.
USOC will spend the next six months conducting further research and trying to determine which, if any, of the finalists might carry a proposal to host the international sports festival. A U.S. bid, if there is one, would compete with those from venues around the world.
So far, cities including Paris, Rome, and Nairobi have announced plans to bid on the 2024 games. A venue is expected to be chosen by the International Olympic Committee in 2017.
The United States has not hosted a Summer Olympics since the 1996 games in Atlanta. (Salt Lake City, however, was the site of the 2002 Winter Games.) Los Angeles has hosted the summer competition twice, in 1932 and in 1984.
A little help from friends
Hosting the Olympic Games is no small undertaking, and most cities can't do it alone.
Great Britain spent more than $15 billion to host the 2012 games in London. Tickets sold for the games surpassed 9 million, with billions of fans watching broadcast events. Nearly 11,000 athletes competed for gold medals in more than 300 sports.
The logistics of staging so many events and accommodating so many athletes, spectators, officials, trainers, reporters, vendors and others can be overwhelming. The special venue requirements of some sports complicate the challenge.
No wonder that host cities typically turn to surrounding – sometimes distant – locales to handle some of the burden.
In 2008, for example, the Summer Games in Beijing put its equestrian events in Hong Kong, more than 1,200 miles away. The upcoming 2016 Summer Games, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, may hold its canoe slalom events 700 miles away, according to media reports. And in 2012, sailing competition for the London games was held more than 100 miles from the host city.
Coincidentally, the body of water used for 2012 Olympic sailing was a bay off the south coast of England, known as Portland Harbour.
Love that dirty water?
Boston, while a strong contender, faces significant challenges if it is to be the 2024 host.
Repeated attempts to reach the committee for comment were not successful, and the group has been publicly cagey about the bid, or Maine's chance of being included in it.
The committee's chairman, construction executive John Fish, has acknowledged the benefits of a New England Olympics, but hasn't said much else.
"Holding the Games in the Boston area would serve as a catalyst for growth in the region, supporting the kinds of major transportation and infrastructure improvements that are essential to our state’s economic future," he said in a statement after USOC confirmed Boston had made the cut.
And despite possible benefits to the region, some worry that Boston isn't up to the task.
The city is small in comparison to most Olympic venues, critics claim, and just can't meet the housing, transportation and other demands of international competition.
Last October, a commission formed by the Massachusetts Legislature issued a report that concluded it would be "feasible" for the commonwealth to host the 2024 games. But the commission also admitted that Boston would not be able to provide some Olympic facilities, such as an 80,000-seat stadium required by the international committee.
"The Commission does recognize that pursuing a bid would be an enormous task, and that infrastructure and venue requirements would need to be addressed," the report stated.
The report also notes that the Boston area currently offers only about 30,000 hotel rooms, far short of the 45,000 required by the IOC for a summer Olympics.
In addition, some Massachusetts residents have criticized the long-term value of trying to host such a huge event.
"Make no mistake – bidding on the Olympics is the wrong priority for Boston and our region," said Liam Kerr, co-chairman of the group No Boston Olympics, in a statement last month.
"We have far more pressing challenges than throwing a three-week party for the global elite, one that comes with a $15 billion hangover."
A port in a storm
Facing such obstacles, Boston might look elsewhere for help with the games. Southern Maine might provide it.
News reports and social media have already circulated Portland's name as a potential venue, along with those of cities such as Providence, Rhode Island, and Worcester, Massachusetts. But it's too early to say which sites might be included in a Boston bid.
To date, there have been no talks between the organizing committee and the state, according to Kerry Hoey, executive director of the Maine Sports Commission, the quasi-official organization responsible for bringing sports events to the state.
But she says Maine is ready and able to pitch in.
"Even with a small population, we've been able to pull off national and international events before," she said Monday. Hoey cited examples such as Maine's hosting earlier this year of the Junior World Championships in biathlon, a Winter Olympic sport that combines target shooting and cross-country skiing.
She said she'll be meeting with her peers from other New England states in the next couple months, and a regional bid for the Olympics could be on the agenda.
"Ancillary" events, such as mountain biking and sailing, are well-suited for a Maine venue, she added.
Gerry Tiernan, a member of the U.S. Sailing Team who has competed at the international level for several years, agreed.
"Southern Maine could host a fair amount (of the Olympics)," he said recently. "It would certainly be possible."
Tiernan, who is program director for SailMaine, a community-based sailing organization, said the Portland area would need to ramp up its infrastructure in order to be a serious contender for 2024 Olympic sailing. Docks and cranes would need to be added; accommodations for 300 Olympic sailors, their coaches and support teams would need to be ready.
Boston Harbor may be too busy with commercial shipping to host an international sailing event, he pointed out. But other New England communities, such as Marblehead, Massachusetts, and Newport, Rhode Island, are already well-established as world-class sailing centers.
Still, Portland could be in the running.
Off-the-water attractions, including abundant hotel rooms and convenient transportation, might also help make the city a contender for the Boston games. Plus, Portland would give spectators a rare chance to watch Olympic sailing from ashore. Races might be staged within sight from the Eastern Promenade, as large events such as August's MS Regatta already are.
"Watching Olympic sailing off the Eastern Prom would be amazing," Tiernan said. "We certainly have a great viewing platform."