So have cities like London, Paris, Madrid, and Tokyo – who have all bid for the Games at some point in the past decade – simply taken leave of their senses? Why does any city without a global chip on its shoulder want the Olympics, with all its traffic jams, stadium projects, and cosseted International Olympic Committee barons?
London's answer to that question gives a hint at what the Olympics are becoming, as well as how hosting the Olympics could potentially leave a lasting and positive impact on a city that doesn't really need them.
In a word, the answer is: infrastructure. True, the average citizen does not go to bed on Christmas Eve dreaming of tearing open "improved infrastructure" the next morning, but for city officials, its four syllables are a siren song. While Salt Lake, Beijing, and the rest saw the Olympics as a ticket into an exclusive club – the cost of buying dearly desired global cred – London wants to show the world how to use the Games to resuscitate forgotten parts of a city.
Olympic Park is not remotely near anything a tourist would recognize as London. It is in Stratford, which over the years had become London shorthand for "industrial blight." And the Olympics were a unique lever to effect a profound transformation.
"The single massive positive impact of the Olympics is the clearing and redevelopment of a vast, unusable space," says Tony Travers, a professor at the London School of Economics who has followed the Olympic process here. "It is now all cleaned up and ready to use for a city with a fast-growing population."