Cincinnati's 2012 Olympic Bid

July 21, 2021

Cincinnati Olympic Village

Cincinnati has traditionally had an undeserved reputation for underachieving.  "When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it's always twenty years behind the times," Mark Twain said. And even though the veracity of this quote is highly questionable, naysayers still love to parrot it.

In the late 1990s, though, a group of ambitious leaders in the Queen City, led by a PR man named Nick Vehr, attempted to bring the 2012 Olympic Games to Cincinnati. Inspired by the overall success of the games hosted a few years earlier in Atlanta, Vehr and his team felt the same could happen in Southwest Ohio. The Cincinnati Olympic bid committee, officially Cincinnati 2012 Inc., was facing a tough job. Several challenges lay ahead.

The first issue was finding enough suitable venues. For that, there was a three-pronged solution. The first was to use existing stadiums and arenas. The second involved using facilities in neighboring cities like Dayton, Columbus, and even Cleveland. The third was to build new ones if necessary.

Holding some Olympic events outside of Greater Cincinnati wasn’t all that far-fetched. Most of the events at the Atlanta games were held in the metro area. Some, though, were held in Columbus, GA, in the southwest part of the state. Savannah, on the Atlantic coast, was also utilized. Birmingham, AL, Washington, D.C., and the Florida cities of Tampa, Orlando, and Miami also hosted events. 

In addition to using Riverfront Stadium (then Cinergy Stadium), or its replacement, planners also sought to use Firstar Center (formerly Riverfront Coliseum, now Heritage Bank Center), Paul Brown Stadium, and even the Cincinnati Gardens. There was also a plan to put a dome on UC’s Nippert Stadium.  The university’s other venues would also be used.

Additionally, a huge Olympic village, including an 80,000 seat stadium, would have been built immediately west of Longworth Hall in Queensgate. After the games, the stadium would have been reconfigured into a smaller venue, possibly for an expansion team in the then three-year-old Major League Soccer.

Cincinnati Olympic 2012 Inc. raised over $5.5 million but was confronted with several issues beyond its control, one of which was the riots in spring 2001. While things had calmed down, many said the situation would give the U.S. Olympic Committee pause.

Another problem was Issue 3, which passed a few years earlier. That measure amended the city's charter and prohibited extending legal protection to homosexuals. Today, it’s hard to believe that such a thing was possible, but back then it did happen.

Officials in Atlanta had faced a similar problem when they were planning for the 1996 games. Neighboring Cobb County had passed a resolution condemning the “gay lifestyle.” In response, Atlanta organizers re-routed the path of the Olympic torch and moved the site of the volleyball contests out of Cobb County and out to Athens.

Even without those issues, transportation and lodging became areas of concern. Hotels and other lodgings could be built in time for the games. However, moving people around greater Cincinnati, and to outlying venues in Cleveland, Dayton, and Columbus, was a bigger challenge.

The city’s prospects took another hit when it was reported in August by the Washington Post that “the IOC will never again award the games to another second-tier U.S. city like Atlanta.'” Ouch for Atlanta, and not great news for the bidding cities of Dallas/Ft. Worth, Tampa/Orlando, Houston, and of course, Cincinnati.

In October, the ax finally fell as the United States Olympic Committee took the first step to name its candidate to play host to the 2012 Summer Olympics whittling down the roster of hopefuls to New York, Baltimore/Washington, San Francisco, and Houston. Cincinnati, along with Los Angeles, Tampa/Orlando, and Dallas/Ft. Worth was all eliminated. London, England was the eventual winner.

Whether or not it was accurate at the time, the notion that the IOC would only focus on large, international cities to host future summer games turned out to be true. In addition to London, subsequent games were awarded to Rio de Janeiro (2016), Tokyo (2020), Paris (2024), and Los Angeles (2028). Oddly, the 2032 games were awarded to Brisbane, Australia. No doubt a fine town, but not necessarily the first city one thinks of as international in that part of the world. Who knows? Cincinnati’s Olympic dreams may yet be realized.

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