Saturday, November 01, 2014

The A/C Olympics

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As the London Summer Games get underway, Valley sports insiders ask: Could it happen here?

Imagine the world’s top amateur athletes cavorting in an Olympic Village at Arizona State University. Russian and Chinese gymnasts dueling inside US Airways Center. Opening ceremonies at… well, details to come. Could Phoenix host a Summer Olympic Games? We’d face a few Olympic-sized hurdles, for sure. Triple-digit temperatures. Funding issues. Questions about that all-important international “stature.” But consider what Arizona does have to offer: a wealth of facilities and a vast honeycomb of resorts and hotels. And there’s also the fact that metro Phoenix – with more than 4 million people – is now the largest U.S. city never to have formally staged an Olympic bid. If hot, muggy Atlanta could do it, why not hot, pleasantly-arid Phoenix?

“I’ve always thought an Olympic games in Arizona is not that far-fetched,’’ Valley sports broadcaster Brad Cesmat (XTRA 910) says. “I’m big on how we do events out here.”

Arizona’s stifling summer heat would undoubtedly give U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) officials pause; before tapping Chicago as the official U.S. bid city for the 2016 Summer Games, the USOC looked at 18 key criteria including transportation, finance, venues and seasonability. (Chicago ultimately lost to Rio de Janeiro.) But triple-digit heat isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, suggests ASU Athletic Director Steve Patterson. “It was 95 degrees and 95 percent humidity [in Barcelona],’’ recalls Patterson, who personally sweated through the 1992 Summer Games. “At least we have air conditioning.’’

In terms of Olympic-caliber facilities, Phoenix is arguably superior to past Summer Games shortlist candidates such as Osaka, Japan and Istanbul, Turkey. University of Phoenix Stadium and the three other major pro-sports venues can accommodate more than 150,000 spectators combined. Cesmat envisions boxing at the Grand Canyon University Arena, shooting at the Ben Avery Shooting Facility, equestrian events at WestWorld.

There are potential stumbling blocks. With a maximum capacity of about 72,000, University of Phoenix Stadium is probably too cozy to host the opening and closing ceremonies and signature track-and-field events. (In 2008, Beijing staged the ceremonies in a 91,000-seat stadium.) Aquatic events would also be an issue; ASU’s current aquatics complex seats only 2,000. “I think it would be very costly to the state of Arizona [to build the required facilities],’’ says Ann Meyers-Drysdale, a longtime Olympic broadcaster who also sits on Los Angeles’ Olympic bid committee.

Indeed, Beijing splashed out more than $40 billion to stage the games in 2008, while Athens spent about $15 billion in 2004. The projected cost for Chicago’s would-be Olympics: $4 billion. Naturally, there would be a return on such an investment for Phoenix: Improved infrastructure, tourism dollars and perhaps even a profit for Phoenix itself. China’s National Audit Office reported a profit of about $150 million for the Beijing Olympics.

While Phoenix hasn’t hosted anything on an Olympic scale – Beijing sold an estimated 6.5 million tickets – consider its success with showcase sports events. The 2008 Super Bowl drew an estimated 91,000 out-of-state visitors, and the Valley will host its third Super Bowl in 2015. Arizona also has the organizational muscle to spearhead an Olympic bid, should the likes of former Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo and ASU President Michael Crow take up the cause.

Who knows? Maybe our heat would be a bonus for athletes. “It would keep them warmed up,” Meyers-Drysdale half jokes. “They shouldn’t pull any muscles.”

 

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