Duncan Mackay

I have few doubts that Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo will all host fantastic Olympiads in seven years time should International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge dramatically call any of their names out in Copenhagen on October 2. But for me, the 2016 Games must go to Chicago.

I did not however, think I would find myself praising the “Windy City” when I first arrived just five days ago.

My journey to Chicago involved an eight hour flight from London’s Heathrow Airport and while I thoroughly enjoyed the on-board film entertainment - I would recommend “The Hangover” to anyone with a immature sense of humour like mine -  I was rather tired when I arrived at the Chicago O’Hare Airport.

It had just gone 6pm local time but as I was still running on English time, my watch - which I had forgotten to adjust - showed it had gone midnight. Staggering off the plane while yearning for my bed, I hoped that I would be able to quickly reclaim my suitcase and get the first taxi to my hotel room.

I did not realise though, that quickly reclaiming baggage at the Chicago O’Hare Airport was more of a challenge than running the 100 metres in under 9.59sec, if your name is not Usain Bolt. After a two-and-a-half-hour queue through immigration, I eventually picked up my bag while cursing Chicago under my breath.

Once I climbed into my taxi however, my dislike for the city began to fade. The taxi driver was an extremely friendly man with a huge interest in English “soccer”. After a heated discussion over the merits of David Beckham’s playing career and his distinct lack of popularity in America, the taxi diver was kind enough to give me a small tour - at no extra charge - of where the proposed Olympic venues in the city will be should Chicago win the 2016 bid.

Having had the pre-conceived idea that Chicago would be a highly commercialised, dusty city with a McDonald's or Coca-Cola sign every two steps, I was pleasantly surprised this did not appear to be the case. Among the tall, clean and futuristic looking skyscrapers, there is green green grass to be seen throughout Chicago.

It is clear that the city is extremely passionate about hosting the Games and one cannot get more than two blocks with seeing the Chicago 2016 logo hung proudly out of an office block window. Chicago is a highly metropolitan city and from the window of my taxi, I could clearly make out a variety of people from all different cultural backgrounds.

As I reached my hotel at 9:30pm, which was 3:30 am from where I was from, I decided to head straight to bed and reserve judgement on the city that appeared to have a hidden charm I had not expected to encounter.

When I ventured out of my hotel the next day, still a little jet-lagged,  I came to learn that my friendly taxi driver was no exception to the average Chicagoan. On the contrary, everyone I bumped into - not literally, of course - seemed to be extremely friendly. In fact, I began to find Chicagoans so ridiculously friendly and helpful that they became slightly annoying. It sounds a little vindictive of me to refer to a group of people as annoyingly friendly but I shall give you an example to illustrate my point.

If you are a little lost in London and asked a stranger for directions, they would often point you in the right direction with minimal fuss. If you are a little lost in Chicago and asked a stranger for directions, they would firstly be delighted to be talking to someone outside Chicago and engage you in a chat about the “English accent”, which is not as posh as Americans seem to think.

They would then insist upon walking you to your destination regardless of the fact that they may not know where exactly it is while talking to you about how great an Olympic Games would be for the unique city. When they have got you even more lost than you were before you had asked them for directions, they will summon a pen and a piece of paper from thin air to draw you a map complete with their telephone number at the bottom.

You may think that I am exaggerating, but this exact scenario happened to me on my visit. Twice! It is like I say, rather annoying and makes one think twice about asking for directions. But it is an endearing quality none the less. 

As I did for its people, I began to develop a great liking for Chicago as a place.
If you look up at the never-ending skyscrapers, you get the feeling that they are so impossibly tall that they are flirting with the few clouds in the bright blue sky.

So big is everything in the city, you feel extremely small and insignificant as you walk around it. However, this brings out child-like wonder and amazement in you that cannot help but put a smile on your face.

There is also an abundance of iconic yellow taxis in Chicago flying about the roads between the hustle and bustle of people.

As I again ventured around the city at night and saw the buildings lit up as beautifully as a Van Gogh painting, I realised that the streets remained very busy well into the night. If New York is the city that never sleeps, Chicago barely gets a wink.

Also, if you are on a diet, I suggest you do not eat out in Chicago, delicious though the food is. When I ordered a medium/rare steak at the delightful but humorously named Hugo’s Frog Bar, I didn’t that I would receive something resembling the size of whole cow on my plate. It was perhaps the best dish I had ever eaten but I will be taking a few pounds extra back to England with me and that is not including the souvenirs I picked up!

By my final day in the city, Chicago had finally won me over and I was truly in love with it. Yes it was still very busy, the taxis still “beeped their hooters” incessantly and the people were still far too friendly but one learns to accept this as an essential feature of the “Windy City” - and for the record, I did not find Chicago windy at all, on the contrary, it was very warm and pleasant with a very light breeze though I am informed this is not the case in winter.

If a vibrant, exciting city that is buzzing 24/7 is not the place for you, you will probably not like Chicago. If so, you will fall in love with the city that would do the Olympic Games proud.

I came to Chicago not particularly fussed about who won the right to host the 2016 Olympic bid but now I feel differently. I don’t really know quite how or why, but the “Windy City” has truly swayed my vote and come Copenhagen on October 2 I know which tional city I’ll be hoping Jacques Rogge declares the winner of the 2016 bid.

Tom Degun is a reporter and the Paralympics Correspondent on insidethegames