Thousands of people stood in bewildered silence in downtown Chicago on Friday after the International Olympic Committee eliminated the city from the race for the 2016 Summer Olympics in the first round of voting.
The stunning vote in Copenhagen was carried on huge television screens set up in the Daley Center to host what many believed would be a celebration. The choice of Chicago as the host city had seemed so likely to many 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 final announcement that people were still excitedly talking among themselves when IOC President Jacques Rogge announced: “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, though many stayed to see Rio de Janeiro ultimately chosen as the winner.
Katie Suitor, a 28-year-old social worker, said she had already signed up to work as a Olympics volunteer. “I was looking forward to having the world come and see just how great Chicago is,” she said.
Many had looked forward to the jobs and construction projects that would have come with the Olympics. “I was hoping this would pick up Chicago’s economy, and now I feel pushed even farther from finding a job,” said Vince Monaco, an unemployed 35-year-old in the city.
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 bid would help or hurt those numbers.
The IOC has traditionally partnered with governments where strong leaders like Daley are in control. Bringing an Olympics to Chicago would have been seen as a crowning achievement for the mayor. “He definitely loses a little face,” said Larry Kajmowicz, a 31-year-old trader and Chicago resident. But, he said. “I don’t see him losing an election due to this.”
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 hours before the voting began.
A recent poll by the Chicago Tribune showed residents almost evenly split, with 47 percent in favor of the bid and 45 percent against 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.