Olympic delegation mirrors city's diversity

September 25, 2009 3:18:42 PM PDT
Mayor Daley is flying to Denmark Friday night to prepare for the city's final Olympic bid presentation. The mayor and his Olympic committee have put together a diverse delegation to represent the city. Chicago's bid team will be the most diverse in Copenhagen and that could be one of its strongest selling points. The mayor has hinted this week that one of the subtleties of that sales job will demonstrate how Chicago has been at the forefront of changing attitudes about race.

"There's certainly a poetic justice that can be considered if and when the games come to Chicago," said Stuart Owen Rankin.

Rankin can only imagine the courage of his grandfather, Jesse Owens, the black Chicagoan who won four gold medals in the 1936 Games in Berlin. The South Side sprinter and long jumper, who persevered racism in his own country, dismissed the notion of Aryan supremacy as Hitler and tens of thousands of Nazis watched.

For Rankin, it would mean so much to host the 2016 Games on the South Side.

"There would be a full circle feel coming to the city that my grandfather considered home," said Rankin.

Chicago's track and field stadium would be built in Washington Park on ground that Jesse Owens may have walked during his life. Former Olympian and park District Commissioner Bob Pickens said the diversity of surrounding neighborhoods is perfect for the games.

"Here, you can walk down the street and see as many African-Americans as you see whites and Hispanics in one fell swoop. This is the world," said Pickens.

"Most importantly, who's leading us today? The president of the United States and the first lady lives just so many blocks east of here," said Mayor Daley.

The mayor and bid team will depend on African-Americans, including first lady Michelle Obama, and perhaps the president, as well as Oprah Winfrey, to sell the city's diversity.

And a special appeal will be made to the critical IOC voting block from Africa.

"The peoples off of the continent of Africa, the black Africans, will have a critical say in this effort," said Rev. Leon Finney, Chicago 2016 supporter.

Rankin, who will travel to Copenhagen next week, says he will repeat a lesser told story of his grandfather's odyssey in 1936: The lifelong friendship Jesse Owens forged with a German long jumper that, despite the turbulent times, epitomized the Olympic spirit.

"The games are about a unity through competition," said Rankin. "I think that this bid and this has kept its focus on this crucial element of the Olympic Games."

The IOC voters will consider the technical and financial aspects of all the bids, including Chicago's, but they'll also consider the emotional appeal of each city.


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