CHICAGO - In a stunning end to years of work, Washington-Baltimore's bid to play host to the 2012 Summer Olympics was eliminated yesterday by the United States Olympic Committee, which will now choose between San Francisco and New York to be the U.S. candidate.
"I'm surprised, probably bordering on shocked, about the decision," said Dan Knise, president and chief executive of the local organizers working to bring the games to the region. "We had the chance to make our case. In the end, we just fell short."
Also eliminated yesterday was Houston.
USOC officials met at the Hilton Chicago O'Hare Airport in a private all-day meeting with a security guard posted outside. Breakfast and lunch were sent in.
At 4 p.m., a spokesman announced the group's decision to the four bid cities and the news media.
In the days and weeks leading to yesterday's decision, most Olympic observers considered the Washington-Baltimore bid a sure thing to make the final two.
"The USOC has never been consumed with logic and wisdom," said John P. Bevilaqua, president and chief executive officer of Creative Marketing Strategies Inc. in Atlanta, which specializes in sports marketing. "There's a lot of behind-the-scenes politics, vote-granting and favor-swapping.
"In the end, you'll never really know what went into it."
Charles Moore, chairman of the USOC task force that made the decision, said yesterday that it was no easy job.
"It was not unanimous, but there was a clear consensus," he said. "It did come down to international appeal and the ability of the cities to manage and execute the bid."
Sitting side by side in the front row, Knise and John Morton III, chairman of the Washington-Baltimore bid and president of Bank of America's mid-Atlantic Banking Group, were straight-faced as they listened to the news.
"We brought this region together," Morton said later. "Now it's up to all of us to take what we learned in this competition and apply it elsewhere."
For the two remaining cities, the next contest is just two months away. Organizers from New York and San Francisco will make their final pitches in a 100-page document, bolstered by a 10-minute video, to be submitted to the USOC by Oct. 1.
Representatives from the two cities will make hourlong presentations at a USOC meeting Nov. 2-3 in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the committee's 123-member board of directors will select the winning bid.
That city will enter the international competition that could include London, Paris, Rome, Rio de Janeiro, Toronto and Havana. The International Olympic Committee is expected to pick a host city in September 2005.
"We're delighted to have been selected," said Jay L. Kriegel, executive director of New York 2012. "We remained focused and will stay focused."
Anne Warner Cribbs, chief executive of San Francisco 2012, said it had been a stressful but happy day, and attributed her city's win to a variety of factors.
"People love to visit San Francisco, and that includes athletes," she said. "People understand that we can win in the international arena."
The USOC's Moore praised San Francisco's international strategy and environmental plan, and said that New York's infrastructure was particularly strong.
Though cautious in his comments, he shed some light on an issue that might have played into the decision against Washington, describing its status as the U.S. capital as both a positive and a negative.
"In many respects, Washington is the capital of the world," said Moore, who lives in Washington and works in New York. "Washington has to recognize what that is. It does take the anti-American sentiment. You will recall that is where [former IOC President Juan Antonio] Samaranch was brought to be grilled by Congress. You could say that some of that lingered."
But Moore said Washington's international status probably ended up as a neutral consideration for the bid during discussions yesterday.
"Is it fair? No," he said in an interview. "You have to understand these are all perceptions. We're trying to read into the minds of the IOC."
Knise said he thought the Washington bid had been able to counter the potential nega- tives of the city's status as the U.S. capital.
"I think we probably heard as much today as we've ever heard about the political issue - the pluses and minuses," he said. "We've always thought about having to sell [Washington] against a potential negative.
"We thought we'd done a good job of overcoming it with the strengths," Knise said. "Sometimes things are beyond your control."
Bevilaqua said the issue of Washington and international politics is a red herring.
"I think that's a bunch of baloney," he said. "That, to me, is a very transparent argument."
For some cities, the race for the Summer Games began in 1996 - long before the October 1997 deadline that the USOC set for cities to sign up.
Washington and Baltimore were among 10 U.S. entries, along with Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Tampa-Orlando, Fla.
In those days, Washington and Baltimore pursued separate efforts to host the games.
At first, the USOC planned a run for the 2008 Summer Games. But in June 1997, the decision was made to bid for the 2012 Olympics.
It wasn't until December 1997 that the publishers of The Sun and the Washington Post organized a meeting to discuss a joint bid - a move that, behind the scenes, the USOC had strongly recommended. The project solidified in June 1998 as the Washington-Baltimore Regional 2012 Coalition.
Six months later, Seattle - considered by many to be a leading contender - dropped out because of a lack of civic support.
Last October, the USOC trimmed the list to four, eliminating Cincinnati, Dallas, Los Angeles and Tampa-Orlando.