Coalition also seeks 2 events in '04

Group promoting Olympics for area sees an opportunity

Swimming, gymnastics

Baltimore-D.C. area among 8 cities vying for Summer Games

March 29, 2001|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

The group working to bring the 2012 Summer Olympics to the region hopes to showcase Washington and Baltimore by playing host to the 2004 Olympic swimming and gymnastics trials before the Athens Games.

The Washington-Baltimore Regional 2012 Coalition already has submitted a bid to hold the 2004 U.S. Olympic swimming trials at the MCI Center in Washington, where a temporary, 50-meter pool would be installed directly on the arena floor.

That would allow about 15,000 people to view the trials, far more than would have access to the event at typical pool settings or natatoriums.

"Imagine swimming fans from around the country flocking to Washington, D.C., to experience the thrill of selecting America's 2004 Olympic swimming team," said Dan Knise, president and chief executive of the coalition.

Other cities that have submitted bids for that event are Indianapolis, which was host to the swim trials in 1996 and 2000; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Long Beach, Calif.; Mesa, Ariz.; and San Antonio. The competing sites are to be evaluated in the coming months, with a decision to be announced in September.

Local Olympic organizers said they also plan to bid on the six-day Olympic gymnastics trials to be held in June 2004 - proposing to hold them in the 11,000-seat Baltimore Arena. That event was held in Boston in 1996 and 2000. Bids are due April 15.

An added attraction of being host to the gymnastics trials is the simultaneous USA Gymnastics National Congress and Trade Show, which draws between 2,000 and 3,000 people and typically fills up to 1,100 hotel rooms a night in the host city.

Also due April 15 are bids for the Visa American Cup, to be held in March 2003. That is a one-day event starring eight elite men and eight elite women gymnasts. The coalition plans to bid to hold that event at the Baltimore Arena as well.

The swimming and gymnastics events were chosen because of their visibility and because the region has shown support for those sports in the past, Knise said.

"We thought these were high-profile," Knise said. "We thought we had a history with them that would be helpful."

Baltimore was host to the Olympic gymnastic trials in 1992. The Fina World Cup swimming championships were held in College Park in 1999 and 2000. The region also has a large youth summer swimming program, second only to California's, Knise said.

Attracting such high-profile sporting events is a key element in the game plan as Washington-Baltimore competes with seven other cities for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Also vying for the Games are: Cincinnati, New York, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Tampa-Orlando.

The United States Olympic Committee is expected to whittle the eight American cities down to a short list by April 2002 and to name an American city later that year. The winning city then enters the international competition. The International Olympic Committee will choose a site for the 2012 Olympics in 2005.

The local bid effort has raised $8.5 million of its planned $9.5 million, Knise said. About $1,500 comes in monthly from a grass-roots campaign that has not yet kicked into high gear, he said, adding that he hopes to complete fund raising by year end.

A critical financial guarantee, required by the IOC since the Atlanta Games in 1996, sailed through the Virginia legislature and awaits final passage in Maryland. It will be heard soon by the Washington City Council.

That $175 million financial guarantee would be used to pay off debts should revenue fall short of projections or expenses exceed expectations. It would apply only after a $686.1 million cushion had been used.

These days, local organizers are focused on a key visit scheduled for this summer. Between June 1 and Sept 15, a team of USOC officials and volunteers will spend several days in the Washington-Baltimore region conducting a technical review of venues proposed in the bid for the 2012 Games. Exact dates of the visit will be known in about a month.

Knise said he hopes to secure one of the early visits on the bid tour for Washington-Baltimore.

"I think we have such a strong case to make that we can set the standard for everyone else," he said. "I would worry about fatigue setting in at the end because that's a lot of cities."

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