What if … Worcester: Dateline 2076 — City hosts Olympic games as new format spreads benefits, burdens around the globe

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This article was originally published in the Aug. 7, 2016 edition of the Sun.

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Editor’s note: Worcester Sun is proud to introduce our newest series. B.J. Hill is a talented, Worcester-based creative writer and journalist with an eye toward the future. In What if … Worcester, he combines all of those things into one fascinating, imaginative and often reality-based package that opens a window into the coming decades and centuries in and around the City of Seven Hills.


FRIDAY, AUG. 7, 2076 – During the Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies this evening, the city of Worcester will open its arms to the world — sort of.

Debuting a new cost-cutting Olympic format, Worcester, the host city, will hold the opening ceremony, the closing ceremony and just a handful of events. The remaining events will be held by other cities around the world.

Impelling the change was the harsh truth that eight out of the last 10 Olympics were net losses for their host cities. After the most recent Brazzaville/Kinshasa Olympics, the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo briefly went to war over an unpaid $6.7 billion tab. The last Games to indisputably net a profit for the host country were the 2020 Olympics in Old Tokyo.

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In previous Games, all-new venues, hotels and public transportation had to be constructed, as mandated by the once-powerful International Olympic Committee. But after years of financial loss, charges of corruption and general antipathy, the host cities now have an upper hand in negotiations, and they’re finding it in their best interest to share risk and profits with other modestly sized cities.

“The days of mega-scale Olympics are over,” announced Worcester City Planner Mary Diang at a press conference earlier this week. “Worcester is pioneering the new era of the Games. This new, smaller, multi-city format led us to work closely with municipalities and organizations around the world to provide the best experience; our teamwork and cooperation fit perfectly with the Olympic spirit.”

She noted that by making the opening and closing ceremonies optional, and “outsourcing” the Games, the city of Worcester saved approximately $23.2 billion in expenditures that there was no guarantee it would make up.

The new initiative is made possible through recent advancements in automation and sub-orbital flight, which have deeply slashed travel time and cost.

“Transportation breakthroughs, host city expenses and crowd security made us rethink why everyone has to be gathered in one place,” said Olympics 2076 Organizing Committee Chairman Peter Theroux. “That was 20th-century thinking. Now traveling from Worcester to Johannesburg is as easy, and almost as cheap, as taking a short car ride.”

In fact, Worcester’s only major outlays for the Olympics were the expansion of the Mariano Memorial Worcester Airport presented by Unibank, to upgrade it into an international sub-space station, and renovations to Shrewsbury’s 84-year-old Donahue Rowing Center. Instead of creating a new Olympic Village, athletes will be hosted in dorms at the city’s 21 colleges and universities.

The track and field venue, and site of the opening and closing ceremonies, will be the newly constructed, 85,000-seat Myra Kraft Coliseum on Chandler Street, where Foley Stadium once stood.

This year, for example, sailing will be held off Martha’s Vineyard, cycling will be held on Prince Edward Island, archery will be held in Memphis, while soccer, basketball and skateboarding will be held across the Atlantic in Casablanca, Pushkin and Cork, respectively.

“Boston approached us and asked about the possibility of holding gymnastics or swimming,” said Theroux. “Instead, we told them that we had the perfect job for that great city – in case Schenectady pulled out, Boston would be an ideal backup site for handball.”

The 2076 Olympics isn’t just about where, but whom.

A novel feature at this year’s Games will be the projection of holograms of past celebrity athletes “performing” alongside their modern-day counterparts.

“We’re really excited about this,” says Mohammed al-Qudsi, marketing director of the Leicester-based company Hol/Events. “For the first time ever, fans will be able to watch – in 3D – their favorite athletes of all time, side by side.”

During the men’s 200-meter sprint next Tuesday morning, spectators will be able to watch a hologram of 20th-century legend Carl Lewis race the track shoulder-to-shoulder with the other nine runners. Next Monday afternoon, Florence Griffith Joyner — considered the World’s Fastest Woman ever because her 1988 records in the 100- and 200-meter races stood until 2052 — will sprint the 100 alongside Haiti’s Catheline St. Jacques, the current World’s Fastest Woman.

Hol/Events received strong backing last year when it exhibited the Gold Medal showdown between figure-skating rivals Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwon from the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Millions of viewers tuned in.

“That show was a turning point for our company,” said al-Qudsi. “We overcame three hurdles: how to convert an old, flat 2D video into a life-sized, high-res hologram that was bright enough to see on an ice rink, while maintaining the detail and smoothness of the athlete’s movements from one end of the ice to the other. I’m happy to say that just like Tara Lipinski’s triple loop, our engineers and equipment nailed all three.”

Over the next two weeks, viewers will be able to re-experience gymnast Mary Lou Retton’s 1984 floor routine, or her iconic, Gold-clinching perfect-10 vault; Nadia Comaneci’s pioneering Perfect 10 on the uneven bars from 1976; Carl Lewis’ farewell and fourth-consecutive Gold Medal long jump from 1996; Greg Louganis’ post-concussion 10-meter platform dive from 1988; and 79-year-old Jing “Monkey Man” Wong’s record-smashing rock climb from 2064.

The projection technology, popularly known as “holo-glam” for its association with “inviting” deceased musicians and celebrities to exclusive parties, has been developed in the past years to display dynamic actions, such as running and jumping.

Though the details of the technology are a company secret, the holograms are produced by thousands of interconnected, palm-size projectors. The projectors emit laser beams that excite nitrogen molecules, which make up 78 percent of air. The image can be seen from all angles, and traditional 3D glasses are not necessary.

Hol/Events’ al-Qudsi says his company’s hologram technology is only getting better. “We’re close to being able to project the lasers accurately through water, which will allow everyone to watch 24-time medal winner Michael Phelps once again in the swim lanes.”

Ultimately, he’d like to make the projections interactive. “Imagine fencing against a hologram of [Bulgaria’s former champion] Blaguna Ivanova, so that when she ripostes to your chest, it actually registers.

He hopes to have that technology in place by the next Summer Olympics in two years, in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Al-Qudsi says that he has a surprise for local viewers — he can’t give it away, but he advises tuning into the ballroom dancing finals next Thursday morning.

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that the winningest Olympians from Central Mass. were multi-discipline dancers Mike O’Shea and James Morales. The pair racked up 12 medals between 2024, the year dance became an Olympic medal sport, and 2048. It would be a true treat to once again watch the famously outgoing Uxbridge couple tango in their prime.

Author’s notes: Boston was in the running to be the possible United States candidate to hold the Olympics in 2024, but after stiff protest and fears of financial failure, the bid was dropped and awarded to Los Angeles. As a July 31, 2015, National Post article points out, hosting the Olympics was a symbol of being a world-class city; Boston already is a world class city. (Worcester’s DCU Center, by the way, would have been the venue for handball.)

Rapper Tupac Shakur was killed in a drive-by shooting in 1996; in 2012 he took the stage at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, but as a hologram. That technology was a 19th-century parlor trick (albeit on a large scale) called Pepper’s Ghost, which projects images onto clear plastic or glass screens. You can actually reproduce that on your cellphone with a cut-up CD jewel case.

The two-song Tupac appearance was programmed by Digital Domain Media Group and brought to life by AV Concepts for a cost of about $100,000 to $400,000, according to the April 17, 2012, issue of The Week. True holograms, without the need for bulky backdrops or wearable apparatus, are on the horizon for communications and video displays.

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