LA Olympic bid may not produce Hollywood ending

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 09, 2016 7:40 PM

By Steve Keating

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (Reuters) - The Los Angeles 2024 Olympic bid provided the backdrop for a USOC media summit but problem-plagued Rio de Janerio offered a reminder that landing an Olympics does not always follow a Hollywood script.

With the three-day summit at a posh hotel in Beverly Hills wrapping up on Wednesday, athletes who hope to compete for gold at the Rio Olympics received the star treatment and shared the spotlight with a Los Angeles bid locked in a race with European glamour cities Paris, Rome and Budapest for the 2024 Summer Games.

But while LA2024 officials were busy selling their glittering vision, Rio representatives delivered a sobering reminder of some of the drudgery that awaits the 2024 winner as they tried to defuse a growing list of concerns from Zika virus carrying mosquitoes to budget cuts and flagging ticket sales.

"It is complicated, it is an amazing amount of work but everyone is in good spirits," Rio 2016 spokesman Mario Andrada told reporters. "We are excited.

"People have been working more than seven years into this journey and as you get close there are butterflies in your stomach and you want to make it work."

While Andrada calmly assured that the Rio Games, now five months away, would be a huge success his assurances appeared to carry little weight in the face of media reports of the numerous worries topped by the Zika threat.

During the summit the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) confirmed it is taking steps to limit that health risk but said it will leave the final decision on whether to travel to Brazil to individual competitors.

The mosquito-borne virus, linked to a spike in the rare birth defect microcephaly, has hit Brazil hard and has spread through much of Latin America and the Caribbean, raising concerns for athletes planning to compete in August in Rio, particularly those thinking of having children after the Games.

Rio officials are also dealing with concerns over the polluted waters of Guanabara Bay, where the sailing competition will take place, construction delays at the cycling and athletic venues, slow ticket sales and a doping lab on the verge of being declared non-compliant by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

The USOC faced many of the same questions in regards to its preparations and level of concern heading into the Rio Games.

Following a USOC board meeting on Tuesday, chairman Larry Probst and CEO Scott Blackmun acknowledged that Rio, like every Olympics, produces unique logistic challenges but for the moment it is business as usual.

"They have a department in Rio whose job it is to keep the NOC's informed and up to speed and they do a pretty good job of doing that," said Blackmun. "Our preference is whatever changes are happening the sooner we find out about them the better.

"We would much rather rip off the Band-Aid now than have slow drip over the next five or six months."

A doping cloud that is spreading over the sporting world also hung over the summit that attracted over 100 potential U.S. Olympians, who were asked about anti-doping scandals in Russia and Kenya, whose track and field athletes could find themselves barred from the Rio Games.

Meldonium, a drug few athletes had heard of before Monday when five-time grand slam tennis winner Maria Sharapova announced she had tested positive for the banned substance and was suddenly the hot topic on Day One of the summit.

"I don't even know what it is, I have been dealing with other stuff," said 2012 Olympic 110 hurdles gold medalist Aries Merritt, who underwent a kidney transplant in September but is trying for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team for Rio.

"As an athlete it is your responsibility to always know what's being placed on the banned list. Period."

(Editing by Larry Fine)