July 7, 2005
London wins Olympics, and we sigh
Remember how we once dreamed of a Cincinnati 2012 Games?
By Paul Daugherty
Enquirer staff writer
Depending on how you viewed him and Cincinnati's bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics, Nick Vehr was either a passionate visionary or a self-promoting crank. Who else could stare at the aquamarine splendor of Darling Harbor in Sydney, Australia, during the 2000 Games, as Vehr did, and see the Ohio River?
Somehow, London got the 2012 Games on Wednesday and we didn't. There's no accounting for taste.
There isn't even a sense of "What if" about it. Cincinnati's cheeky little run ended in October 2001, when the U.S. Olympic Committee cut its list of bid cities from eight to four. The 'Nati missed the first cut. Some were disappointed. Few were surprised.
There would be no StadiumWorld on the river, no dome on Nippert Stadium, no riverboats serving as floating hotels. This fantastic, five-year, $5 million quest of Vehr's was done.
All but the questing.
Some of us never thought Vehr was foolish. Even as we laughed at the notion of a dome on Nippert - what's next, the Maisonette leaving downtown for Montgomery? - we loved Vehr's capacity for loud dreaming. Somebody's gotta do it, or else you end up with a dead downtown, a fractious city council and a lousy national reputation.
Who's doing the dreaming now?
When the USOC killed our flight of fancy, Vehr said this: "People in Cincinnati had the courage to think a really big thought and to push ourselves to do more than we ever thought we could. We need to do more of that in Cincinnati."
OK. Who's doing it?
Say what you will about Vehr and his Olympic quest. At least he had a vision that extended beyond big parking lots, bigger holes in the ground and moving a fountain a few feet.
The Olympic plan he presented to the USOC included everything we should be doing now: cooperating, imagining, growing and building a regional identity.
Or, as Vehr put it Wednesday: "If we'd won the bid, there'd be power cranes on the Banks, serious discussion of light rail. We'd have to be cooperating with each other, because that's the only way everything would have gotten done.''
Was the notion of a Cincinnati Olympics a stretch? Of course. Was the philosophy needed to pull it off a stretch? Hardly. It's more relevant now than it was then.
Nick Vehr quit City Council in 1996 to pursue the Olympics. Vehr's a vice president for the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. He's charged with economic development. He has the same enthusiasm and optimism for Cincinnati he had nine years ago, when everyone laughed at him.
He says in hindsight he realizes Cincinnati's bid had little chance. The USOC wanted the "glamour'' cities on the coasts to compete for the American bid. Vehr doesn't question the effort, but he does wonder about its legacy.
"Hard to say. Does the algebra class you took 20 years ago make you a better businessman today?" Vehr said. "It's always important to make your head hurt thinking bigger thoughts than you thought you were capable of thinking. You're going to be better if someone's constantly challenging you to get better."
For a while, Nick Vehr challenged us. After a time, the success of Cincinnati 2012's effort became secondary to what it represented. The effort was worth it, even if the lesson hasn't stuck.
Vehr watched the celebration in London on Wednesday, as the winner was announced in Singapore, and felt the smallest dance in his throat and gut.
"Wouldn't it be cool," he wondered, "if we were in Singapore right now?"
Some events are out of a man's control and, ultimately, beyond his grasp. His reach, though, shouldn't be tamed.
"I'd love to go to London in 2012," Vehr said. "I'll probably be thinking we could have done it better."