The Thrill of Defeat: Taking Advantage of an Olympic Loss

Years of commitment, intensive training, and a great deal of resources go into preparing for the Olympics. After investing so much physical and mental effort into winning the gold, what happens to the athletes that don’t even medal? In a split second, an athlete’s, and a country’s, vision of victory can disappear. One may become depressed and feel defeated. Or, a judicious Olympian may take advantage of his or her prime physical shape, personal progress, and global fame.

Similarly, the cities that bid to host the Olympics face the same decision. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) bid process  is as demanding and high-stakes as athletic competitions. A prospective host city usually embarks on its campaign a decade before the actual Games. In order to remain as a contender throughout the bid process, each city’s National Organizing Committee must identify funding and sponsors to support projects, create public and private partnerships to implement plans, and seek “buy in” from citizens. Cities must also clearly outline—if not start and complete—infrastructure projects for the Games. These complex preparations are on par with the physical efforts and mental determination required of Olympians.

After two phases of candidacy applications, questionnaires, and thorough onsite inspections, the IOC Evaluation Commission determines the final host city. What happens to the cities that fail to win the Games? Just as motivated athletes can turn the tides in their favor, strategic cities may garner the momentum of bidding for the Games in a positive way.  See below a list of cities that bring to light different means of doing so. Each city is paired with athletes that share a comparable story:

Learn from this failure to succeed next time

Despite Manchester’s failed bids to host the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics, the city won its bid to host the 2002 Commonwealth Games. The triumphant campaign for the Commonwealth Games was dramatically impacted by the city’s successive bids for the Olympics. The city used the infrastructure development plans so well laid out in the Olympics bids to their advantage. These plans were part of a larger city scheme to redeem impoverished areas. From the rigorous Olympics bid process, Manchester was able to efficiently achieve its objective to enhance physical infrastructure and sociocultural legacy. For all of these reasons, the Commonwealth Games were a great success.

Similar to the way that Manchester leveraged its failed bid work toward a first-rate Commonwealth Games, Kenyan runner Margaret Muriuki’s failure at the Olympics led to Bix success. Muriuki felt that she was able to succeed in Africa’s Bix 7 long distance race because she was so conditioned from her Olympics training and focused on the Bix after missing out on this summer’s Games.

Use the Olympic spotlight to advocate for change

New York bid to host the 2012 Games and failed….but is said to have “won” the Games.  The city’s motivations to redeem underdeveloped areas proved positive from a societal and urban standpoint. Public transport improvement and sporting venue construction are still underway and going quite smoothly. So although New York lost the bid for the 2012 Games, the bid process catalyzed construction projects—particularly in Manhattan’s West Side—that jumpstarted economic development in the area.

As a comparison, U.S. Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson officially retired in 2012 and will no longer compete in the Games. However, she maintains momentum from her Olympic fame and experience by serving as a motivational speaker for young people with a message of health and dedication.

Broadcast a global signal to an international audience

Dr. Richard Cashman stresses that the Olympics are mainly about promoting the host city as a “global city.” With this in mind, Baku’s bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games may be seen as the city’s willingness to enter the international arena—politically and socioeconomically. According to the head of the Azerbaijan Organizing Committee, “We want to give a new impetus to the sustainable social development of our country and people by implementing the Olympic ideas of excellence, friendship and justice.”

As a parallel, Wojdan Shaherkani of Saudi Arabia was not expected to win in her Olympic judo match at this summer’s Olympics. However, her participation as one of two of the first female athletes in the Games served as an important symbol of women’s empowerment.

Cities and athletes can redefine Olympic “victories” through other gains. Penka Skachkova, a weathered Olympic veteran, says it best:

“Get up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. Take the skills you have and go and improve them, make them better.”


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