By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
The Chicago 2016 Olympic bid committee said in a press conference recently that the worsening economy, combined with rule changes for hosting the Games, have increased the chances that the city will need to cover any budget shortfalls with its pledged $500 million USD guarantee. But committee chair Patrick Ryan said that taxpayers would still not have to absorb any costs.
A side effect means both good and bad news for Chicago's cycling fans, as the changes could see a permanent indoor velodrome constructed. Unfortunately, early plans for the road racing and mountain bike courses within the Chicago metro area seem to have been replaced with a site nearly three hours to the northwest in western Wisconsin.
John Vande Velde, a former US Olympic cyclist and father of current professional Christian Vande Velde, had designed a course close to downtown in the southwest suburbs. But he said an early review by the UCI deemed the courses unsuitable for Olympic competition.
"It's very disappointing to me that the UCI has stepped in and said the courses we had in Lemont and Palos [Hills] were not hard enough," he said. "The rumor is it will be west of Madison [Wisconsin.] 95% of the events will be in Chicago and [the cycling events] will be three hours away. WIthout even seeing it they made the decision."
The course was proposed near where the Vande Veldes live, in the town of Lemont. A river running past the town was to provide enough climbing to make the course challenging – not quite like the most recent Olympic course but definitely harder than some past courses such as Atlanta.
"Christian said the course in Lemont was not easy at all. We worked hard on it to make it a good technical course. But the UCI wants the Olympics to be a classic race and the hardest race of four years. We would have had a million people on the road and it would have been great for spectators. It would have been difficult – sure not like Beijing, but great for spectators."
Officials with Chicago 2016 refused to return multiple calls for comment.
One of the cost-saving measures comes in terms of venue location and construction. For example, the planned aquatic facility was moved south to the same location as the proposed Olympic Stadium, and with a change to a temporary competition pool. The committee also announced a change for its track cycling and BMX plans, moving from a site on Chicago's lakefront to semi-permanent plans in an existing park on the city's west side.
Following the conclusion of the Games the proposed velodrome would be converted to a year-round multisport facility to host cycling, as well as indoor soccer, basketball, volleyball and other sports. This is a change from the original plan which called for a temporary velodrome to be constructed only for the Games. The track would be the only velodrome in the city and only the second indoor, full-size facility in the US.
If chosen Chicago would be the first Summer Olympics in the United States in two decades. The other finalists are Tokyo, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro.