Every US City That's Bid for the Summer Olympics
More American Cities than you think have tried for the Summer Games
The Olympics start on Friday in Tokyo. It was a long road to get the Summer Olympics back to Japan, and no I’m not just talking about the year-long delay in the hosting of the games.
Tokyo officially launched their bid for the 2020 Olympics in March 2011, when they were selected by Japan’s Olympic Committee to be their bid city once again. Tokyo had been beaten out for the 2016 games by Rio de Janeiro, and this came eight years after Beijing topped Osaka for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Japan had not held the Summer Olympics since 1964. After a two-year bidding process, Tokyo was selected in 2013 in a process that included confirmed applicant cities Istanbul and Madrid, and non-selected applicants like Baku and Doha.
It’s been a long time.
This got me to thinking about the Olympics in the United States (and ultimately to this week’s episode of The Duckpin Podcast). GamesBids has a handy list of all of the cities that have ever formally been voted on by the International Olympic Committee. And I think it would be interesting to take a look at each of these US cities that have ever bid for the Summer Olympics, from past to present.
Unbeknownst to most people, Chicago not only bid for but was awarded the 1904 Summer Olympics. An Olympics they never got to hold because the planners of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis pitched a fit and got the Olympics moved there instead. They turned into a sideshow of the Exposition and dragged on for an unbelievable five months. They were also just a little more than politically incorrect.
We’d hear from Chicago again. However, I don’t see a situation where St. Louis would ever think about bidding for the Olympics again, much less be a serious contender.
1916 and 1920- Cleveland
Yes. Cleveland bid for the Summer Olympics. Twice. The first time was 1916, an Olympics that never actually happened. Berlin was the odds on favorite for the Olympics and they won them over Alexandria (the one in Egypt), Amsterdam, Brussels, and Budapest. The games ultimately never happened because of World War I.
But Cleveland was back in 1920. They weren’t the only US city that bid (stay tuned for that). But Antwerp received those games over other international cities like Amsterdam, Lyon, Budapest, and Havana.
Cleveland would actually probably be a decent Olympic host. They have the Lake for the water events, and they have a number of sports venues already existing across the state of Ohio. Plus, the city has the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and extensively culturally diverse composition. I could see this happening.
The idea that Atlanta during segregation would ever bid for an international event like the Olympics are almost absurd to think about, however the Olympics themselves were basically a European event at that time so that probably was not as big of a consideration as you might think. Atlanta did not bid for the games again until they absurdly won the Centennial Olympics in 1996 over Athens. Given the dilapidated state of the venues from 1996, I don’t think the games will ever return.
The first of many bids from Philadelphia, and a much more realistic option (in 1920, at least) than Atlanta or Cleveland were. With their transit system and sports facilities, I certainly can imagine that Philadelphia would be a credible host again in the future.
1924, 1928, and 1932- Los Angeles
Well, if at first you don’t succeed, try try again. Hard to imagine that Los Angeles was a serious competitor for the Olympics in the days before jet travel; Europe, where most of the Olympians came from, would either have to go through the Panama Canal by ship or to the East Coast and take a train west to get to LA. In fact, when LA bid for the 1924 and 1928 Olympics, they were easily outclassed by Paris and Amsterdam, respectively. In fact, LA only won the 1932 bid because nobody else bid for the games. A fortuitous thing, to a point, once the Great Depression started.
Los Angeles, obviously, would be back.
This is the first of Detroit’s SEVEN appearances on this list. But they were rarely a serious contender, including for these cancelled games. They received two votes for the 1944 games, while London had 20 and Rome had 11.
Detroit of course at the time was a bustling, prosperous, major city. It is not that now and there is not a snowball’s chance in hell of Detroit receiving even USOC consideration for hosting the Olympics ever again.
1948, 1952, and 1956: Los Angeles and Philadelphia
Told you they both would be back. London was ultimately awarded the games without even being elected by the IOC. This would be the last three times Philly made it to the IOC with their bid for the Olympics, though they made an effort in 2016 but were not selected by the USOC. Nevertheless, Los Angeles persisted.
Yes, my own Baltimore bid for the 1948 Summer Olympics. It’s the only time Baltimore made it to the IOC for Olympic consideration. Much like Detroit, Baltimore was a prosperous industrial city at the time of their bid. It is very much not now.
That did not stop dreamers from proposing a shot. Baltimore leaders had begun working on a bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics, only for the bid to get eaten by the bid for nearby Washington. The joint bid was not selected by the USOC as the US Bid for 2012.
1948, 1952, and 1956- Minneapolis
Again, a major industrial city from the late 40’s and early 50’s made a bid for the games. Or rather, three bids for the games. In a row. Minneapolis has done a little better about keeping their city prosperous for the future. Minneapolis, of course, is much cooler in the summer time than just about any of the other US cities that made a bid for the ‘48 games. It would be a very suitable venue for future Olympics games not just because of the multitude of venues available in the area, but especially based on the advantageous nature of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport being a major hub.
1952, 1956, 1960, 1964, 1968, and 1972- Detroit
For six consecutive Games, Detroit made an effort to bring the games to Michigan. They, of course, were never successful. In their first three bids, they were distant contenders. But then, Detroit was the runner-up for three straight selection processes from 1964-1972, losing out to Tokyo, Mexico City, and Munich respectively.
Detroit never made an effort to get the Olympics again.
1956- San Francisco
San Francisco airdropped in to make a bid for the 1956 games, one of SIX US cities to bid for these games (along with Chicago, Detroit, LA, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia). San Francisco was, of course, a major west coast city by 1956 (luring the Giants west by 1958). Their athletic venues were not quite, at the time, to the caliber that they needed to be for the Olympics.
But they are now, with venues all across the San Francisco Bay area. It’s why San Francisco made a run to be the USOC bid for the 2012, 2016 and 2024 Olympics. San Francisco would be a very serious contender in the future if they can get their financing straight, however that’s even less likely than most other US cities after the successful Los Angeles bid for 2028.
1976, 1980, and 1984- Los Angeles
Sound familiar? Los Angeles ends up bidding for three consecutive Olympic Games, only to be awarded the third one unopposed? Yup, the same thing happened in 1984 as happened in 1932, though Los Angeles was originally up against Tehran before the Iranian Revolution happened.
One could argue that the 1984 event saved the entire Olympics because LA figured out how they could actually make the Olympics profitable.
Again, Los Angeles would be back.
Ah yes, the controversial awarding of the 1996 Olympics to Atlanta. The IOC, as they are wont to do, had the opportunity to do the right thing and award the Centennial Olympics to Athens and they screwed it up. Even if you discount the Centennial aspect of the decision and look at the cities at the vacuum, Atlanta, in my opinion, still trails Toronto (the third-place finisher in the process) as a viable Olympic city.
Ultimately, that is not to say that the Olympics in Atlanta weren’t successful. They finished in the black and left a lot key infrastructure improvements in the city. But I also don’t think, for a variety of reasons, Atlanta would be considered again. Then again, if Brisbane can get the Olympics, who really knows.
2012- New York
The US went a long time without submitting an Olympic bid again, and the USOC’s selection was The City That Never Sleeps, picking New York over San Francisco, Houston, and Washington.
(Can you imagine the Olympics in Houston in the summer? Can you imagine how hot that would be?)
The bid never had a chance, for any number of reasons. However, the fact that city and state officials couldn’t get their act together regarding stadium funding was extremely problematic. The 1st Round of voting for the bid selections were actually pretty closed; the first round was London 22, Paris 21, Madrid 20, New York 19, and Moscow 15. New York was eliminated in the 2nd round.
It seems almost inevitable that some day in the future, New York will bid again.
Over a hundred years after being awarded the Olympics, Chicago made another bid for the Games. It did not go well. After being selected as the US bid over Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, Chicago finished a distant fourth behind Madrid, Tokyo, and the eventual host Rio de Janeiro. Considering the financial boondoggle Rio 2016 turned out to be, everybody probably wishes they would have picked Chicago instead.
Like New York, a future Chicago bid seems inevitable.
2024 and 2028- Los Angeles
Los Angeles was back again in 2024, winning the selection as the US host for the 2024 games….eventually. Boston actually won the process, beating out LA, Washington and San Francisco. But once Boston withdrew, LA became the backup option.
The 2028 Summer Olympics wound up in Los Angeles based on a deal between the IOC and the LA and Paris bids that would award Paris the 2024 Olympics and LA the 2028 Olympics. There were other bids for both 2024 (Budapest, Hamburg, and Rome), but the IOC decided to make the deal and make this happen.
Will the 2028 games in LA be successful? Well, the last two Summer Olympics in the US have made everybody a lot of money so one has to assume so. That is why I made the case for Los Angeles to be the permanent home of the Olympics starting in 2036 in this week’s episode of The Duckpin Podcast. Which is also why one day, twenty years from now, Los Angeles will against start planning their next Olympic Bid.