Now Chicago takes on the rest of the world. The Windy City's bid to hold a Summer Games for the first time moved to the international stage Saturday when the U.S. Olympic Committee capped a yearlong search for an American candidate for 2016 by picking Chicago over two-time host Los Angeles.
"It's just beginning," said Patrick Ryan, Chicago's bid committee chairman. "It's a long road."
Having won over the USOC despite lacking venues ready for an Olympics, Chicago's task is to persuade the International Olympic Committee that it deserves to be the host, joining a group of bidders expected to include Madrid, Prague, Rome, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.
The IOC will award the 2016 Games in October 2009.
"This contest ultimately is not about the economics, it's not about the surplus, it's about the magic that can be created through the Olympic and Paralympic games, and how that by itself can transform a city, can transform a nation, can transform the world," USOC chief executive officer Jim Scherr said. "And so we look forward to trying to earn that prize."
The USOC had said beforehand it would not release Saturday's vote count and stuck to that policy.
"It was a very tough decision," USOC chairman Peter Ueberroth said before opening a sealed envelope and revealing the winning city. "If I had all the power, and sometimes people accuse me of that, I would take the map and merge the two cities, because I'll tell you what: If you could take the mayors of these two communities and have them run our country, we would all be better off."
By choosing Chicago instead of Los Angeles, the 11-member USOC board of directors went with a city that needs to do plenty of work if it's going to be the 2016 host. Los Angeles already had most venues in place, having held the Summer Games in 1984 - when the Olympics were run by Ueberroth - and in 1932.
Chicago, meanwhile, offered a bid that hinges on new facilities, mostly situated around the downtown lakefront and nearby parks. The centerpiece would be an 80,000-seat, $366 million temporary Olympic stadium that would be built in historic Washington Park. Chicago's plans also call for a $1.1 billion lakefront village that would be built near the convention center just south of downtown.
The lakefront plan repeatedly was mentioned as a key factor.
"For the Olympic Games to be a success we have to recreate a certain magic, a certain celebration center," USOC international vice president Bob Ctvrtlik said, "and the waterfront location, right on the lake, we felt could do that."
The last time the IOC was looking for a Summer Olympics host, New York City appeared to be a front-runner for 2012. Until, that is, financing for a new stadium in Manhattan fell apart just weeks before the final vote. New York wound up with only 16 of 60 votes needed, and London landed those Olympics.
That led the USOC to revamp its domestic selection process. Led by Ueberroth, the USOC has insisted that financing be in place and transparent and that governments be willing to provide guarantees for the bids if private money doesn't cover all costs.
Both the city of Chicago and the state of California complied. Ryan also said Saturday that an insurance company is pledging to provide a $500 million policy to cover revenue shortfalls and cost overruns, though not related to completion of venues.
"The legacy projects, coupled with the guarantees they have offered, I believe gave our board a level of assurance that might have been the differentiation between the cities," Ctvrtlik said.
The USOC's process for 2016 began a year ago, with Houston, Philadelphia and San Francisco also in the running. Houston and Philadelphia were eliminated by the USOC last July, and San Francisco dropped out in November.
"This was a fair process," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said after Saturday's announcement. "We will work with Chicago."
Ueberroth and others spoke about the importance of the U.S. candidate having success when the IOC picks a 2016 host.
Chicago is considered to have a good shot against its international competition, because, by 2016, 20 years will have passed since the last time the United States hosted the Summer Olympics at Atlanta in 1996.
Also, a U.S. bid for 2016 could be helped by the idea of geographical rotation, because the IOC picked European cities for the Summer Olympics of 2004 (Athens) and 2012 (London), and an Asian city (Beijing) for 2008.
"We did everything we could. They (the USOC) obviously thought Chicago would be a better sell" to the IOC, said John Naber, a vice president on the committee that tried to bring the Olympics to Southern California.