An influential group from the United States Olympic Committee arrives today in the Washington-Baltimore area for a high-stakes, four-day site inspection that could make or break the region's chances of being the U.S. pick for the 2012 Games.
Underscoring the importance of the visit, about 75 people have worked full or part time on making sure that the USOC's eight-member evaluation team is more than impressed when it examines the region and proposed venues.
"It's a very critical milestone, if not the most critical," said Dan Knise, president and chief executive of the Chesapeake Region 2012 Coalition, the committee overseeing the joint application by Baltimore and Washington for the Games. "The observations they make during this visit will be central to their decision as to who the finalist cities are and will have a major impact on even the final winner."
Preparations have included a dry run to the venues at the precise time of day when the evaluation team visits are scheduled.
"We're going to be on time, we know the route, we know who's going to be there and what they're going to say," said Bob Fatovic, an architect and vice president of sports design with Miami-based Arquitectonica International Corp., a consultant for the bid. "The cities and the region have to show well. If there are some logistical screw-ups, if someone shows up and says the opposite of what we said in our bid, that would be the worst-case scenario."
The guests will even ride the Metro and MARC trains to some venues, but contingency plans are in place should a train break down or traffic snarl the planned route as they travel by car or bus.
Fatovic has undergone that type of scrutiny three times, once for a USOC visit when he was a consultant for North Carolina in 1999 in its bid for the Pan Am Games, then for two International Olympic Committee visits when Manchester, England, tried for the 1996 and 2000 Games.
Although he described Olympic officials as "generally very appreciative of everyone's efforts," Fatovic added, "But when it comes down to the hard questions, they'll ask the hard questions. You have to be prepared."
The region is the first stop for the evaluation team on its eight-city tour that will span the summer, ending in Los Angeles in late August. The other U.S. cities bidding to play host to the 2012 Summer Games are Dallas, Houston, Cincinnati, New York, San Francisco and Tampa.
"It's important because this is the first chance to see what a city has to offer, not only the venues but the spirit, the vibrancy, transportation, government, public opinion, practice areas," said Bob Condron, director of media services for the USOC. "The whole scope of what the bid is about is going to come before our eyes. This is not just fluff and welcome receptions at the airport. These are people who know what it takes to put on an Olympic Games."
The evaluation team has a combined experience of 45 Olympic Games and ranges from a gold-medal-winning Olympian to a chef de mission, according to the USOC.
The detailed planning by the local group doesn't surprise Con- dron, who said the site-evaluation team is not likely to return to these cities before narrowing down the field of candidates.
"I would expect thorough preparation for the visit," he said. "I don't think any of the cities want to leave anything up to chance."
Tomorrow, the evaluation team will begin touring key facilities and their security command centers, the sites of opening and closing ceremonies and proposed villages and media centers. It also will meet local Olympic organizers, government officials and volunteers.
Topics will include general and sports infrastructure, event experience, housing and Olympic village plans, transportation strategies, government support and public opinion, financial plans and guarantees, and international strategies.
In Baltimore, key venues include Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where baseball would be played, a future arena where gymnastics would be held and PSINet Stadium, the site for soccer. In Washington, the MCI Center would be the site for basketball, and Annapolis would play host to sailing.
The evaluation team will spend between 30 minutes and an hour at about a dozen venues, officials said. And preparations have been made to make the experience come to life. For instance, the field at PSINet Stadium will be laid out with goals in place for soccer, Fatovic said. There may be videos at various venues to show the facility in action.
On Wednesday, the USOC evaluation team and local organizers will hold a press conference. Olympic officials are expected to discuss their impressions of their visit.
But local organizers know there is stiff competition from the seven other cities hoping to lure the Games.