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Cities that covet the glory that comes with hosting an Olympics need plenty of fortitude (and cash). The four finalists for the 2016 Games have both -- and so much more.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY FREDRIK BRODÉN

IF history is any guide, next month’s International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, where the 2016 Summer Olympics host city will be announced, will no doubt be a dramatic and high-stakes affair. Four years ago in Singapore, Tony Blair, then the British prime minister, put on an unprecedented charm offensive: He is said to have holed up in a hotel room for three days to personally lobby every single IOC member. Blair was credited with not only landing the 2012 Games for London but also, deliciously for the Brits, having front-runner and historic rival Paris denied them. “Without a doubt, Blair almost single-handedly turned it around for London in the last few days in Singapore,” says Duncan Mackay, publisher and editor of InsidetheGames.com, which covers all things Olympics.


This time around, representatives from the four finalist cities -- Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, and Tokyo -- will undoubtedly pull out all the stops to persuade IOC voters that their city is best. Members of the Spanish royal family have already committed to being in Copenhagen, and it’s a pretty good bet that Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who has been heavily involved in Rio’s aggressive campaign, as well as equally prominent heavy hitters from Tokyo and Chicago (maybe even including a certain Chicagoan who currently resides in the White House), will show up.

And, mind you, the drama to come in Copenhagen will simply be the culmination of years of work by each finalist. The four cities have spent countless hours getting financial commitments from governments -- Rio’s proposed budget for the Games is north of $14 billion, which is almost as much as what the other three cities combined have proposed -- persuading citizens to support their bids, hosting site inspections, and on and on.

THIS CUTTHROAT
, hypercompetitive contest -- Rio recently accused Madrid of spying during an IOC visit to Brazil -- is actually something of a new phenomenon. In fact, nobody even wanted to host the 1984 Summer Olympics, as they were coming on the heels of a string of unsuccessful Olympics: The 1972 Munich Games experienced the tragic murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches; the 1976 Montreal Games were a financial disaster; and the 1980 Moscow Games, of course, were boycotted by the United States because the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan. In 1976, Denver was actually awarded the Winter Olympics, and then voters thought better of it and opted to reject the offer.

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So when it came time to find a host for the 1984 Summer Olympics, the IOC had little choice -- Iran’s Tehran considered a bid but then decided against it. Eventually, Los Angeles stepped forward and, in stark contrast with how cities bid today, was essentially able to dictate the terms by which it would host the Olympics. Far from having to promise to build elaborate new venues, like Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium and Water Cube natatorium, L.A. wrote a new organizational playbook, one that called for using the Rose Bowl and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, both of which had been utilized in 1932 (another year when L.A., thanks to the Depression, was the only bidder), which was the last time the City of Angels had played host to the quadrennial paean to sports and global unity. Peter Ueberroth, who organized the 1984 L.A. Games, also created a new paradigm for financing the Olympics: He largely eschewed government funds and instead lined up major corporate sponsors to bankroll everything.

Images of magnificent athletes like Carl Lewis, who won four gold medals in track and field in 1984, may well dominate the collective memory of the L.A. Games, but within Olympic circles, Los Angeles is remembered as a real turning point, the place where the Games got their financial mojo back. “They ended up making a profit of over $500 million. And then all of a sudden, everyone else in the world sees $500 million going to the host city, as well as the name recognition and all these other things. So all of a sudden, everyone starts bidding,” says Victor Matheson, a sports economist and associate professor of economics at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, who has extensively studied the Olympics.