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Olympic biking bid gains traction

Olympian, state officials behind effort

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published May 15, 2007, 3:30 p.m.)

Walworth County's bid to get Olympic events here should Chicago land the 2016 Summer Games has the backing of a former Olympian.

Tom Schuler, a member of the 1980 United States road cycling team and alternate for the 1976 games, said Walworth County is a perfect spot to hold road biking and mountain biking events if Chicago is picked as the host city.

"Between Champaign (Ill.), the Fox Cities and Madison, there is no finer cycling than right here in Walworth County," Schuler told the county board Tuesday. "That goes for mountain biking in the Kettle Moraine and road biking in Walworth County."

Walworth County's glacial-formed rolling hills provide enough vertical climbs needed for Olympic-style road biking courses, Schuler said. Although there are places closer to Chicago that could hold mountain biking, the trails in the Kettle Moraine State Forest are top-notch and are some of the best in the area, Schuler added.

"As many cycling places as you can keep together, the better," Schuler said.

Schuler, who now trains Olympic bikers through his Wauwatosa-based business, was one of about 15 people at Tuesday's county board meeting supporting the Olympic effort. Many wore buttons depicting an Olympic torch that said, "Walworth County In the Games."

The Walworth County Economic Development Alliance is pedaling the endeavor to bring biking events, and possibly equestrian and rowing events, to locations here.

The county board gave the effort unanimous support Tuesday.

Fred Burkhardt, WCEDA executive director, projected Olympic mountain biking alone, at the Kettle Moraine's John Muir trails or at Alpine Valley Resort, could bring in 40,000 to 50,000 people and more than $116 million in total economic impacts.

UW-Whitewater could also land the Olympics as a training and housing facility for athletes in the weeks leading up to the games.

The International Olympic Committee could potentially subsidize infrastructure improvements at the university, and students could learn by working with international athletes, said UW-W Athletics Director Paul Plinske.

Wisconsin officials have begun to back the effort. Assemblyman Kim Hixon (D-Whitewater) had bi-partisan support from four colleagues at the Capitol, including Senator Judy Robson (D-Beloit), Senator Robert Wirch (D-Pleasant Prairie), Assemblyman Scott Gunderson (R-Waterford), and Assemblyman Chuck Benedict (D-Beloit).

"Hosting a venue for the Olympics would benefit our local municipalities with revenue directly related to tourism and visitors," according to a letter from the legislators. "Other benefits would be an increase in tourism-related jobs, profits for local businesses and improvements to local infrastructure."

Hixon said he didn't have the time Tuesday to contact other legislators from the area for support.

Gov. Jim Doyle and the Wisconsin Department of Tourism has "enthusiastic support" for this "significant endeavor," according to a letter from department Secretary Kelli Trumble.

"There is perhaps no greater opportunity to showcase a destination to the world than the Olympic Games," Trumble wrote. "For Walworth County, it's that chance of a lifetime to spotlight the area's exceptional mountain biking, cycling and water recreation. That, in itself, makes it worth pursuing."

Supervisor Dan Kilkenny was somewhat leery about an Olympics event being held in Walworth County. He thought Burkhardt's prediction of $116 million over a five-year period was inflated and was concerned about the costs to the county for infrastructure improvements.

"I love the Olympics, but thinking we're going to make a quick buck out of it is not something that interests me," he said at the executive committee meeting preceding the county board meeting.

A steering committee focused on bringing part of the Olympics to Walworth County will make a formal presentation to Chicago sometime in June.

Chicago is competing against international competition to host the games that includes Rio de Janeiro, London, Tokyo, Madrid and Prague, Czech Republic.

Burkhardt thought the two leading candidates were Chicago and Rio de Janeiro since Beijing is hosting the games in 2008 and London will host them in 2012. The IOC prefers spreading the games out among continents over time.

The IOC won't select a host city until late 2008 or early 2009.

"This is not only a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I think it's a once in a three- or four-lifetime opportunity for Walworth County," said Kevin Brunner, Whitewater city manager and WCEDA vice president. "What Chicago lacks is our gain. We have rolling terrain in the county, whether it's the Kettle Moraine (for mountain biking), or the county roads and highways that are perfect (for road biking).

"If you go south of here, I don't know if you noticed, but it's kind of flat."

 

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