The dream of hosting the Olympics evokes stirring images of athletes competing in idyllic settings. Such imagery can be powerfully appealing for cities seeking the world's attention. Yet staging the games takes place on the contested terrain of urban politics. Olympic hosts may aspire to hold the best games ever, but the realities inherent in governing urban America bend and alter the materialization of Olympic dreams. Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Salt Lake City have all sought to fulfill their Olympic dream. By examining their experiences, we can gain a better understanding of the impact of these events on urban politics.
The appeal of hosting the Olympic games for a city ought to be obvious. The games last only a short time but promise many benefits, both tangible and intangible. Among the tangible benefits are thousands of tourists, from suburban families traveling downtown for the award ceremonies to foreign dignitaries and business people staying at the best hotels. The intangible benefits include days of worldwide saturation television coverage and hundreds of glowing media stories about the city. Indeed, Olympic boosters nearly always claim that the real value of the games comes from being associated with the Olympic image.
Of course, image creation can be a fickle endeavor. Consider the case of Salt Lake City. Members of various Olympic bid committees spent years and millions of dollars trying to attract the winter games to the city. In 1995, Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), announced that Salt Lake City would host the 2002 winter games. For local leaders, the Olympics