Next month, 1,000 young swimmers will converge on Baltimore. Normally, that wouldn't raise too many eyebrows. But with the Baltimore-Washington region chasing the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, the meet suddenly has taken on new importance.
"The top swimming representatives from 13 states will be here in Baltimore watching how we run it," said Murray Stephens, owner of Meadowbrook Aquatic Center in Baltimore and a coach who has trained some of the region's top national and international swimmers for 25 years.
The area's ability to attract and smoothly stage sporting events such as the the five-day Eastern Zone long course championship for swimmers ages 9 to 18 can translate into favorable votes down the road when it comes time for the selection of a U.S. Olympic site, say Stephens and others.
Even though the Games are 14 years off, now is the time to cultivate an image as a place that can be host to Olympic-quality events, they say.
"It's a very simple concept," Stephens said. "The cities who show they are in this for more than just two weeks in 2012 are the ones the USOC [U.S. Olympic Committee] is going to favor when it comes time to decide who gets the big apple."
Those votes are all important. For instance, during the 1996 Atlanta Games, media reports claimed key votes were won by parties and international dinners. A Cuban delegate reportedly was won over with the purchase of a bulldog.
The Olympic bid has come a long way since the day about 2 1/2 years ago when two local attorneys, Keith Rosenberg and his friend Paul Levy, telephoned Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman John Moag with the idea of bringing the Olympics to the Baltimore area.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Ganzi, owner of a big event marketing business that has done work for past Olympic teams, was planning a competing Washington bid.
Talks to combine the bids began in earnest in fall at the suggestion of Mary E. Junck, president of Times Mirror Co.'s Eastern newspapers, which include The Sun, and Donald E. Graham, chairman of the Washington Post Co.
"It was an incredibly difficult process bringing Washington and Baltimore together," Moag said. "I think it is nothing short of historic bringing these cities together for the purpose of winning this Olympic bid."
The longtime rivals -- now united in the Washington/Baltimore Regional 2012 Coalition -- are expected to hire a leader and other employees within the next few weeks. The cost of making the bid is expected to be about $12 million.
"Usually Maryland is the junior partner, but the number of facilities equalizes Baltimore with the prestige of the nation's capital," said Bob Leffler, president of the Leffler Agency, the Baltimore advertising firm that helped prepare the city's earlier bid and designed its first logo. "There's a chance, for once, that the two cities are equal partners in something," he said.
An Olympiad is expected to inject billions of dollars into the region's economy. The 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, are projected to inject $10 billion into that city's economy. The Atlanta Games two years ago pumped $5.1 billion into the economy.
"There is no single more important economic development competition than the Olympics," said Ioanna Morfessis, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Alliance, a regional marketing and economic development group that supports the Olympic bid.
Some of the potential gains are less tangible. The Olympics provide a community with worldwide media coverage that promotes its image for years to come.
"The global exposure, we couldn't afford to pay for," Morfessis said. "That literally is worth billions."
To successfully win the bid for the Games, Washington-Baltimore would probably need at least 100,000 volunteers, an Olympic Village and to build or modify an aquatic center.
"The region will have to put in place a lasting physical and economic legacy to the athletes and the community, the price tag of which is yet to be determined," said Levy. "But it is expected to be less than what was spent in Atlanta." The Georgia capital spent an estimated $1.5 billion for the '96 Games.
By Sept. 30, the local Olympic organizing group must submit a formal proposal to the U.S. Olympic Organizing Committee. That will address issues such as finances, licenses, sponsors and compliance with all requirements covering amateur athletes.
It will take years to complete the telephone book-sized bid, which covers diverse requirements, from the quarantining of horses to air quality.
Right now, the Washington-Baltimore effort is competing only against U.S. cities: San Francisco, Arlington in the Dallas-Fort Worth corridor; Cincinnati, Houston, New York, Seattle, Tampa-Orlando, Fla. and Los Angeles.
In March 2002, that list will be narrowed to unspecified number of finalists. The final selection of an American city will be made by the USOC later that year.