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Wisch: Imagining The Opening Ceremony To A Chicago Olympics

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Downtown Chicago skyline. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Downtown Chicago skyline. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Dave Wischnowsky Dave Wischnowsky
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in...
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By Dave Wischnowsky –

(CBS) On Monday, the temperature reached 61 degrees in Sochi.

Here in Chicago, it bottomed out at minus-2.

Perhaps rather than chasing the Summer Olympics, we should have put in a bid to host the Winter Games instead. After all, they could attach a ski jump to the Willis Tower Skydeck, right?

OK, maybe not. But while watching the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Olympics on TV last Friday night, I couldn’t help but feel a little melancholy that Chicago, truly one of the globe’s greatest cities, won’t get an opportunity to enjoy its own global stage come 2016.

Instead, Rio will get the chance to strut its stuff. And while I’m sure the Brazilians will put on a fantastic Carnival-themed show two years from now, I also couldn’t help but wonder just what the Windy City would have pulled off for its own Opening Ceremony.

Yes, one can joke about how the theatrics would have been a revue featuring the Blues Brothers, hot dogs, deep dish and Capone, but I doubt that Chicago’s Opening Ceremony would have actually featured any of those civic stereotypes.

At least I sure hope not.

But what might a Chicago Opening Ceremony have truly involved? Well, here are a few ideas:

A Local Focus

For both Sochi this month and Beijing in the summer of 2008, the Olympic Games were treated by Russia and China as an opportunity for the host nations to introduce reinvented versions of themselves to a 21st-century world.

As a result, the Opening Ceremony for both Games focused heavily on national themes, telling the story of an entire country far more than the story of a single city. I don’t think a Chicago Games would have followed that same script.

After all, the United States doesn’t really need an opportunity to introduce itself to the world – I think the world is pretty aware of us – but Chicago does. And, as a result, I imagine that a Chicago Opening Ceremony would have focused on our fascinating city much more than our wonderful country as a whole.

The Great Chicago Fire

From May 3 through Oct. 3 this year, the city will celebrate its inaugural “Great Chicago Fire Festival,” culminating on Oct. 4 with a grand procession and fire spectacle on the main branch of the Chicago River.

Intended to become an annual affair, the Mayor’s Office hopes that the festival will also become a city-wide signature event. And had Chicago earned the 2016 Summer Games, I imagine that the Great Fire – and Chicago’s rebirth from its ashes – would also have been a focal point of an Opening Ceremony.

The White City

In Sochi on Friday, Russia did a fantastic job of using mind-blowing digital presentations to re-create pieces and places from the country’s complex history. I’d like to think that Chicago could have used similar technology to re-create one of the most mind-blowing spectacles ever known to man: The White City.

As the focal point of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the White City was located in Jackson Park on Chicago’s South Side and comprised of a collection of breathtakingly massive buildings designed in the classical style of architecture and clad in white stucco. With the bright walls and illuminated lights surrounding them, it’s said that the city seemed to glow. The construction of the White City also ushered in the “City Beautiful” movement and planted the seeds of modern city planning with its highly integrated design of landscapes, promenades and structures.

Today, only one of the White City’s structures still stands – the Palace of Fine Arts, which is now home to the Museum of Science & Industry – but I would have loved to have seen it return in some digitized form during a Chicago Opening Ceremony.

Skyscrapers and Architecture

With architecture on the mind, Chicago’s Opening Ceremony surely would have also focused heavily on the city’s esteemed role as the birthplace of the skyscraper.

From the 10-story Home Insurance Building – constructed in 1884 and considered the world’s first skyscraper – to the Willis Tower (or Sears), John Hancock and Trump Tower, the Windy City has a truly remarkable architectural tale to tell. It would have been fascinating to have seen it told on such a stage.

Diversity and Much More

Beyond all those elements, I think Chicago also would have shared in an Opening Ceremony the story of the city’s immigrants and its rich diversity. For decades, Chicago was considered to be the largest “Polish city” after Warsaw, and back in 1850, one-fifth of the city’s residents were Irish immigrants. Today, the city also includes swaths of Italians, Germans, Chinese, Hispanics and many other ethnic groups.

Lake Michigan (and perhaps the Great Lakes as a whole) also could have been part of Opening Ceremony, as well as the city’s role as a global transportation hub. And in some way, the show should have highlighted Abraham Lincoln, since a Chicago Games should also should have found ways to be representative of its entire state, if not its entire country.

Finally, we could have had global icon Michael Jordan light the Olympic torch.

And hopefully he wouldn’t have been accompanied by Jim Belushi.

Follow Dave on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his columns here.

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