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Root, root, root for ... Chicago?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 1, 2009 - With the announcement of who will host the 2016 Olympic Games coming Friday in Copenhagen, many St. Louis sports fans find themselves in an unusual spot.

"We're in the interesting position of rooting for Chicago," said Frank Viverito, president of the St. Louis Sports Commission.

Need more proof? Hear Tony Hubert, a spokesman for the professional soccer team Saint Louis Athletica: "This is one time where St. Louis is clearly rooting for Chicago the whole way."

This is more than just a sense of Midwestern pride.

"To have the Olympics be within 300 miles of us and have some things here is a win for us," Hubert said.

Those things could include several men's and women's Olympic soccer matches held at the Edward Jones Dome. Soccer is the only Olympic sport played at different stadiums across the host country. St. Louis is one of seven finalist cities to host soccer matches should Chicago get the bid. Four cities would be chosen among those seven.

But first, Chicago has to beat out other finalists Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo and Madrid.

A Chicago Olympics is an exciting prospect for soccer standout Lori Chalupny, the St. Louis native who is co-captain of the U.S. Women's National Team and a member of the Athletica team. At the Beijing Olympics, she played in five matches and scored a goal in the semifinal contest to help her team win the gold medal.

"It's exciting for [the Olympics] to be in the U.S. at all," Chalupny said. "For it to be just down the road in Chicago is even more exciting. It's fun that should Chicago get the Olympics, people from St. Louis can experience the event. For most people traveling across the world is too much to ask."

Chalupny, 25 , said she plans to play in the 2012 Olympics in London. As for the possibility of playing in 2016 in her backyard?

"It would be an incentive to play in the U.S. and possibly in my hometown, but that means four years [after 2012] of playing day in and day out, so we'll have to see," she said. "It would be amazing for St. Louis. There are so many great soccer fans here, and the city has a deep history in the sport."

Chalupny's Athletica teammate, suburban Chicago native Elise Weber, agrees: "Having Olympic soccer games here would get so many people excited. It would be great for the sport and really help spread the appeal of the game."  

Because of its proximity to Chicago, St. Louis would also be an obvious destination for Olympic athletes looking to train and acclimate themselves to the Midwestern summer climate in the days and weeks before the Games. The so-called acclimatization camps would be for national teams from other countries or athletes in a particular sport.

There's also the possibility of St. Louis applying to host Olympic trials, exhibition tours and other preliminary events.

"When you have the platform of the games being close, it helps in the acquisition of those kinds of events," Viverito said.

Kitty Ratcliffe, president of the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, said there also might be other meetings and Olympic-related conventions that can't be held in Chicago and that could take place in St. Louis.

While Chicagoans debate whether they want to take on the construction, gridlock and potential financial overruns that come with hosting the games (and plenty don't), St. Louis can focus primarily on the potential economic benefits coming from sports tourism.

Both Viverito and Ratcliffe also said that Chicago hosting the Olympics could help the prospects of a high-speed rail between St. Louis and the host city.

Viverito has been to Chicago twice in the last month to meet with people involved in the city's Olympic push. Like Ratcliffe, he will be watching the announcement like many other curious observers - on television.

"Win or lose, St. Louis retains a place as the birthplace of Olympics in the U.S.," he said. "We move forward either way, but we sure hope we'll be moving forward to support Chicago in producing games in 2016."

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