In a Singapore hotel lobby last week, shortly after London was awarded the 2012 Olympics, Dan Doctoroff, the head of New York City's bid, spotted Nawal El Moutawakel, the head of the IOC's evaluation commission. "Dan, you should be proud," she told him, offering an embrace. "You know it was not you." That afternoon New York, London, Paris, Madrid and Moscow had made hourlong presentations to the IOC. With personal appeals from Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Senator Hillary Clinton, and a montage of New Yorkers saying welcome in more than a dozen languages, New York's was called the "best presentation in years" by a 28-year IOC member. Even so, the city finished fourth in the voting.
While expressing admiration for New York and its bid, many IOC members confessed privately that they could not support a U.S. city at a time when the country's international relations are so poor. "It is a superpower's fate," says IOC veteran Dick Pound of Canada, "that there be times when you are not popular." As if further proof were needed that American influence in the Olympics had reached an alltime low, two days later the IOC voted to drop two sports from the 2012 Games: baseball and softball--both native to the U.S.
But this sad state of affairs can't be totally attributed to politics. Major League Baseball's refusal to adopt the World Anti-Doping Agency's drug policy and to interrupt its season so that its best players could play in the Games sunk the sport. Moreover, the USOC, plagued for a decade by scandals and resignations, has lost touch with the international Olympic community. The U.S. movement needs an energetic envoy, ideally multilingual, who would be visible at major competitions and serve on IOC committees. "In the past we could throw money at a situation," says Bob Ctvrtlik, a U.S. Olympic volleyball gold medalist and an IOC member. "Now we need to be more engaged and humble." (London's victory may have been cemented by Tony Blair's face-to-face meetings with more than 60 IOC members.) At 42, Ctvrtlik (top), who speaks Italian, seems like an ideal ambassador, as the USOC ponders a bid for the 2016 Games. And now that Jim Scherr, the USOC's chief executive, enjoys broad support, there is finally hope for sustained leadership. "This is a wake-up call," says Ctvrtlik. "Geopolitically we're swimming upstream." --Brian Cazeneuve