Detroit's Failed Bid to Host the 1968 Olympics

TORCH SONG: Detroit went for the gold to host the 1968 Olympics, but ended up singing the blues


Published:

As metro Detroiters watch the Olympic games broadcast from London later this month, they might be surprised to hear that their city was once a contender.

Between 1944 and 1972, Michigan business and civic leaders lobbied for Detroit to host the quadrennial event. During the early years, Detroit faced the International Olympic Committee (IOC), vying against the likes of Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. Each time, Detroit garnered a modest number of votes.

Detroit’s reputation as one of the world’s great cities proved invaluable when, beginning with the 1960 games, the U.S. Olympic Committee ruled that only one American city would represent the nation before the IOC.

Spearheading the 1964 and 1968 bids was Fred Matthaei, a University of Michigan graduate and chairman of American Metal Products Inc. Working out of offices in the Veterans Memorial Building downtown, The Detroit Olympic Committee, as it was officially known, enlisted luminaries including Lynn Townsend, Walker Cisler, and Richard Austin to organize an array of subcommittees devoted to logistics, transportation, and medical facilities, among other factors.

The bids were effective enough for Detroit to win the USOC’s nod for the 1960 and ’64 games. As the nation’s representative, Detroit proved a formidable competitor. In 1960, Detroit survived to the second round of voting, only to finish behind Laussane, Switzerland, and the ultimate winner, Rome. For 1964, the Motor City emerged a distant second to Tokyo, but saved its strongest effort for the 1968 event.

Detroit Mayor Jerome Cavanagh and Gov. George Romney worked closely with the committee, which drew up elaborate arrangements under Matthaei and his deputy, Doug Roby. Plans made use of existing facilities: Tiger Stadium would host soccer and field hockey, University of Detroit’s Memorial Building, now named Calihan Hall, would see basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, and weightlifting. Outdoor and indoor pools at Rouge Park and Wayne State University were designated for aquatic events. Rowing and yachting would occur on the Detroit River near Belle Isle. The only planned construction was for an open-air stadium at the State Fairgrounds, a nearby velodrome for cycling events, and an Olympic village adjacent to Wayne State.

Three cities stood in the way: Lyon, Buenos Aires, and Mexico City. Lyon was thought an unlikely choice since the IOC decided to de-emphasize the modern Games’ European roots; Buenos Aires suffered from political instability, and Mexico City’s altitude (almost 8,000 feet above sea level) caused it to be viewed as the least likely choice. Committee members had heard reports of athletes gasping for air during the 1955 Pan American Games.

The Olympic flame bypassed southeast Michigan, however. When the final vote was held in Baden-Baden, Germany in October 1963, Detroit lost to Mexico City, 30-14.


If you enjoy the monthly content in Hour Detroit, "Like" us on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter for more frequent updates.

Edit Module
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

Dlectricity to Return After Three-Year Hiatus

The festival known for lighting up Midtown Detroit is back on Sept. 22-23

Arab American Museum Gives Platform to Contemporary Saudi Artists

New exhibit aims to challenge stereotypes about Arab culture

Tony Hawk and Artist Ryan McGinness Bring a Contemporary Skate Park to Downtown Detroit

Chicago Artist Brings Caribbean Flavor to Downtown Detroit

Library Street Collective partners with Carlos “Dzine” Rolón to present a sculpture installation inspired by the artist’s rich Puerto Rican culture.

Ford Arts, Beats, and Eats Celebrates 20 Years This Labor Day Weekend

The Royal Oak festival will feature an expanded lineup of performances, dining, and activities
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Best Dressed 2017
    Meet metro Detroit's most stylish NFL player, dentist, nail salon owner, and more
  2. The Making of a Michigan Beer Hit
    How Old Nation’s M-43 New England IPA became a success story
  3. Taking Flight
    Heritage guides young owners of Rove Estate
  4. Craft Cider and Beer Festival Returns August 26-27
    The third annual Cider Dayze celebration takes place this weekend