Toronto cannot even cry out in pain. For pain to register, there must be blood in the system. A soul also helps. Sensitivity figures in. Pain only becomes apparent when the body is throbbing and alive. Otherwise, a blah sets in. Neither pleasure nor pain can inflict their differing messages. What we have, in effect, is a living corpse.
Our subject, of course, is the semi-tragic story of Toronto flubbing its bid for the 1996 Olympic Games. It was a headline story, since it actually was the most-qualified city among the six contestants, but the headlines were hollow. What you get is not what you see. Toronto couldn’t cry over the decision because it didn’t really care in the first place.
The excited Chamber of Commerce boosters of Atlanta, descendants of Rhett Butler and Ted Turner (who has actually named his sons Rhett and Beauregard), wanted the Olympics badly to prove that the Civil War indeed was over. Athens, with Melina Mercouri as PR agent, tried to invoke nostalgia as a weapon, reminding the world that the modern Olympics were revived in Greece in 1896.
Melbourne, being Australian, was suitably aggressive, claiming with some justification that it was time for the sweaty spectacle to go to the Southern Hemisphere again, as it has only once. Neither Manchester, trying to shuck its grimy past, nor Third World Belgrade had any real hope of winning. But at least they cared— and wanted it. Toronto in truth never did.
We have the examples before us of the Canadian cities—all, strangely enough, smaller and less rich than the Big Lemon—who have pulled off international events. Despised Hamilton, of all places, staged the then-named British Empire Games back before the War. Vancouver, funky and provincial Vancouver, hosted the most-famous footrace of all time when Roger Bannister beat John Landy in the Miracle Mile at the 1954 Games of the fading Empire. The Village on the Edge of the Rain Forest brought off a very successful Expo in 1986.
Montreal followed its fabulous Expo 67 with the Olympic Games in 1976. Edmonton, showing its western exuberance at not only providing
the best football team in the land but the best hockey club in the world, hosted the newly named Commonwealth Games in 1978 and followed with the World University Games in 1983.
Even dreamy old Winnipeg, the City on Nembutal, pulled off an acclaimed Pan-American Games. Calgary, smarting at the Edmonton lead, did proud with the 1988 Winter Olympics. Victoria, the home of the newly wed and the nearly dead, is all revved up and excited about being the home of the 1994 Commonwealth Games, and talked about a crazy/brilliant idea of holding opening and closing ceremonies on a barge in the harbor in front of The Empress Hotel and the Disneyland lighting of the legislature, which boasts a wattage that surpasses even the toothpaste smile of Bill Vander Slap.
That’s not a bad summation for a minor country with only 26 million semi-warm bodies. And where, in the great scheme of things, is
the town through which all riches flow, where the best and the brightest supposedly flock, the town that suffers from penis envy of New York, the town that has the genius to build a SkyDome only to discover it is too small to accommodate Olympic events?
The answer, dear readers, is a variation of Gertrude Stein’s famed description of her home town, Oakland, California. “There ain’t no there, there,” she explained. That, essentially, is the story of Toronto. At the heart of things, there is no heart.
Toronto has recently suffered what would be considered two consecutive blows to its considerable ego. Earlier in the year, it was edged out—by one vote—as the home of Expo 2000 by Hanover. The home of Bay Street capitalism was then boggled (people with no nerve ends cannot read vibrations) by the invasion of the socialist hordes at the gate, led by bucktoothed Premier Bob.
This coincided with the alleged collapse of the Blue Jays, the only team in baseball named after a beer— which fits, considering the fiduciary nature of the locale. Several hundred sportswriters and commentators, all the way up to that well-known jock Conrad Black, dumped all over the team as quitters, chokers, malcontents and lazy mercenaries who should be cashiered.
The town that does not really believe in itself secretly wanted this third defeat—while awaiting a fourth, the Olympics Games failure in Tokyo. The journalist, resuscitated from the western plain, who said that Toronto—unlike Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Hamilton and even Victoria—will never mount a major international event because its only concern was “prime plus one” of course was right.
Toronto is not really a city, but a collection of people who want to make enough money so they can retire to Victoria or Halifax. No one really paid any attention to the Olympic bid until the final two days in Tokyo.
The lack of fervor from the top was apparent. Greece sent Mercouri. Australia sent Greg Norman and Landy. Canada? The charismatic Joe Clark.
The Toronto papers, on the failure, trumpeted artificial angst and fake excuses as to the Atlanta victory. But it was all after-the-fact sham, explanations of a situation that—over the lead-up months and years—never excited the locals in the first place. You can’t put a hypodermic needle into a body that does not have a discernible pulse.
Toronto did not get the Olympic torch because it never really wanted it.
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