Going the Distance

Houston's John Kelley has pursued his dream of bringing the Olympics to Houston for years, despite all odds. Now he's official.

He has other heat-battling plans. "I went to Phoenix and I noticed they had these misters at the golf course, fans that blow water, kind of like you see on the bench at football games," he says. "I talked to Jerry King at [Houston's] public works department, and we can be very innovative very cheaply. You get PVC pipe, string it for ten miles, hook it up to telephone poles and the water mains, and you can cool the marathon runners."

It may sound wild to some, but not to Kelley. "I'm a visionary. I like to think about the future," he says.

Even if his head is in the clouds -- imagining a Houston where visitors don't notice the heat, or a world where IOC voters don't look here and see a bigger, brasher version of Atlanta -- Kelley still maintains his nuts-and-bolts philosophy.

"It all boils down to -- it's like if you want to be mayor, you've got to have the votes," he says. "We could have a billion-dollar stadium, and if you don't have the votes, it won't mean a thing."

And so, like a frontline grunt, Kelley will leave the glamorous big-bucks stuff to the River Oaks crowd that he is so sure will eventually get on board when success seems more likely. Instead, he'll be wining and dining those low-level functionaries who might eventually influence the voters; he'll be working the phones trying to wrangle deals out of grocery stores and cafeterias (the world team weightlifting trials come to town August 29); and he'll be keeping tabs on other cities' foul-ups and successes.

Of course, he's confident. "It's really starting to roll," he says. And if he's right -- if things are starting to roll, if Houston has a good chance to be the lone U.S. nominee in the hunt, and eventually perhaps the winner -- then Houston residents will be faced with some expensive choices.

It may cost a billion dollars to put on the Games; authorities will say the investment will repay itself many times over. But if the improbable happens, for good or ill, the man largely responsible will be John Kelley, the obscure Olympic dreamer who will have spent years preparing the trenches for the big boys to launch their high-profile offensive.

E-mail Richard Connelly at rich_connelly@houstonpress.com.

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