DENVER -- They spend millions for the right to spend billions.
These are the Olympic bid cities, congregated in Denver this week to give one of their most important pitches to the people who will award the 2016 Games later this year.
The curious twist is that the city where they're meeting is the only one that ever earned the right to host the Olympics -- and then told them to go away.
Yes, Denver owns a slice of Olympic fame -- or infamy -- thanks to the efforts of a little-known state legislator who led the charge to get voters to tell the International Olympic Committee to look somewhere else.
The voters spoke, rejecting the public funding that was needed to put on the Olympics. That was back in 1972 -- about 2Â½ years after the IOC had awarded the 1976 Winter Games to Denver at the then-unfathomable cost of $5 million.
Persuaded by Dick Lamm, a group of up-and-coming civic leaders and editorials from the Rocky Mountain News, Denver decided it didn't want the publicity or the hassle, the construction or the traffic, the pollution or the sprawl the games might promote.
What it really didn't want was the expense.
"The organizing committee here was in way over their heads," said Lamm, who rode that populist crusade into the governor's office two years later. "They overestimated the benefits and underestimated the costs. Colorado was generally persuaded that they didn't have an adequate grasp on the figures and Colorado was very much liable to have to fund dramatic cost overruns."
Though the template of the Olympics has changed drastically since the 1970s, with corporate and private money now expected to pay most of the bills, almost every government still has to offer some sort of guarantee. In case the sponsors don't come through. Or the costs run too high. Or the economy goes sour.
Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London organizing committee, is in Denver this week hoping to reassure Olympic leaders that the 2012 Summer Games are still on track despite the economic downturn.
"I don't need to tell anyone in that room that these are extraordinary times," Coe told The Associated Press on Monday. "Not since the 1970s has a winter or summer games been delivered under such a sudden change in economic circumstances."
The numbers being thrown about may seem staggering for what is supposed to be, essentially, a worldwide sports festival. But in the Olympic world, they are simply the cost of doing business.
Chicago is proposing a $4.8 billion operating budget for the 2016 Games.
Madrid is at $5.6 billion.
Tokyo is shooting for $4.4 billion.
Rio de Janeiro's number is $14.4 billion but includes things the others do not, such as venue construction and security.
History shows that none of those numbers can be depended upon.
"Projections for events like that very seldom hold true, whether it's a private activity or a public activity," said Denver's former three-term mayor, Wellington Webb, who also opposed those 1976 Olympics. "Anyone who has ever done construction on a house knows the bid does not last. That's what you call the foundation bid. The only thing you guarantee in there is the frame construction and the basement."
The people at the Metro Denver Sports Commission are hoping the Mile High City will stick in the memories of the many Olympic types who are here for the biggest get-together of its kind on American soil since 2002.
Very much on the minds of the hosts this week: A possible bid to bring the Winter Olympics to Denver sometime in the next decade.
Olympic leaders push
to end revenue-sharing
A group of key Olympic leaders ramped up the rhetoric Tuesday over a contentious revenue-sharing agreement with the U.S. Olympic Committee.
They passed a resolution urging the International Olympic Committee to sever its contract with the USOC, increasing the stakes at a delicate time -- with the bid to bring the 2016 Olympics to Chicago shifting into full gear.
"The greed of this organization is unlimited. Totally unlimited," Hein Verbruggen, one of the most outspoken Olympic leaders on the issue, said of the USOC. "It infuriates everybody and especially me."
The contract, first signed in the 1990s, allocates 20 percent of the money from the IOC's top sponsorship program and 12.75 percent of its TV revenues to the USOC. American companies provide well more than that, but the international leaders say that as the overall revenue has increased, the gap between America and the rest has become too wide.
Britain cuts sports' support
Eight British sports will lose $73 million in funding ahead of the 2012 London Olympics, part of an effort to concentrate on events with the best chance to medal.
UK Sports says Tuesday that fencing, handball, table tennis, shooting, volleyball, water polo, weightlifting and wrestling will have their budgets slashed by more than half. Britain did not win medals in any of those events at the Beijing Games.