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USOC returns to Boston for Road to Rio event

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BOSTON (AP) — More than two months after Boston’s bid for the 2024 Olympics collapsed under the weight of fierce public opposition, the United States Olympic Committee is returning to the city with a much different goal in mind.

The organization is sending several athletes and former Olympians to Boston this weekend as part of its Road to Rio Tour, an effort to drum up support and enthusiasm for Team USA as the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro draw closer. The visit is timed to coincide with the Head of the Charles Regatta, one of the world’s premier rowing events that annually attracts some 400,000 spectators to the banks of the Charles River.

The stop was planned well before the USOC dropped Boston in July as the U.S. bid city for the 2024 Games, USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said, and isn’t meant as a fence-mending attempt in a region where emotions are still raw after months of sometimes bitter debate.

“I do think the USOC really trashed the Olympic brand in Massachusetts and in Boston,” said Evan Falchuk, a former candidate for governor who was leading the drive for a ballot question that would have barred the state from using public funds in support of the 2024 games, had the bid gone forward.

Falchuk and other critics contended that the USOC forced Boston 2024, the private group spearheading Boston’s Olympic bid, to shield details of its bid from the public and later pressured city officials to sign an agreement that could have left taxpayers holding the bag for future cost overruns.

With support for the bid lagging in public opinion polls and Mayor Martin Walsh ultimately refusing to sign the guarantee, the USOC severed ties with Boston and later pinned America’s hopes for 2024 on Los Angeles. In August, a report from a state-funded consultant suggested the Boston organizing group underestimated by nearly $1 billion the costs of hosting the games.

Nastia Liukin, the individual all-around gymnastics champion in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is among eight U.S. athletes coming to Boston as part of the tour.

While the anger surrounding the demise of the bid was “unfortunate,” Liukin said, she expects nothing but strong support for the athletes during the weekend promotion.

“It’s about Rio and the road to Rio,” said Liukin, who is engaged to former Boston College hockey player Matt Lombardi and believes fans can easily separate their admiration for U.S. athletes from any sour feelings over the botched bid.

Other tour participants include Ryan Lochte, an 11-time Olympic medalist in swimming; Caryn Davies, a three-time medalist in rowing; and Lolo Jones, a three-time track and field Olympian.

Boston is the third venue on the tour in 2015 after earlier visits to Philadelphia and San Diego. Six stops are scheduled for next year, including the final one in Los Angeles in August.

Boston was selected in part because it is a “great sports city” with a long history of producing and backing Olympians, said Sandusky.

“This isn’t about bidding for the Olympics but supporting Team USA,” he said, adding that the USOC enjoyed a strong working relationship with Boston officials though “ultimately it didn’t work out.”

Another local connection: The lead sponsor for the Road to Rio tour is Boston-headquartered insurance giant Liberty Mutual.

“People love the athletes,” agreed Falchuk, who ran for governor under the United Independent Party banner in 2014. But he believes an apology should come from bid organizers and politicians he contends waited too long to question the financial underpinnings.

“You would like to see someone say, ‘I’m sorry we did this,” but everyone says ‘let’s pretend this didn’t happen,’” he said.

MORE: 2024 Olympics coverage

IOC president: Boston 2024 didn’t deliver on promises to USOC

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Boston 2024 didn’t deliver on promises made to the U.S. Olympic Committee, leading to the end of its bid, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said Wednesday.

“Boston, obviously, did not deliver on promises they made to the USOC when they were selected [in January],” Bach said in a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. “Therefore we can understand the decision by USOC, and we are looking forward to an American bid with another city.”

Bach did not elaborate on the promises but said the IOC had a commitment from the USOC that it will bid for the 2024 Olympics with another city. The bid deadline is Sept. 15.

The USOC has had talks with Los Angeles officials regarding its 2024 Olympic bid, according to insidethegames and the Los Angeles Times.

A Los Angeles-San Francisco joint bid for the 2024 Olympics is possible after a leading Los Angeles 2024 bid official contacted a leading San Francisco 2024 bid official, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“For us the situation has not changed,” Bach said Wednesday. “We had a commitment from United States Olympic Committee for an Olympic candidature for 2024. We have this commitment. We’re sure that USOC will deliver on this commitment, and that we will have on the 15th of September, a bid from the United States.”

Bach said he would not give unsolicited advice on a potential U.S. 2024 bid but that bids should be “a little bit more oriented on facts than on emotions.”

Boston was dropped in a joint decision with the USOC on Monday after Boston mayor Marty Walsh said he would not sign a document that could put taxpayers at risk if there were cost overruns.

“I gave up following [Boston 2024] because it was pretty confusing,” Bach said. “Every day there was a new project coming from Boston or new people and new ideas. … Therefore we can understand the decision by USOC, and we are looking forward to an American bid with another city. The United States is one of the few countries in the world who has the luxury of having a number of cities which are capable of organizing Olympic Games.”

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IOC president confident U.S. will still bid for 2024 Olympics

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International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach expressed confidence Tuesday that the U.S. Olympic Committee will still bid for the 2024 Olympics after dropping Boston as its bid city Monday.

“For the IOC this was always about an American bid put forward by the United States Olympic Committee,” Bach, in Kuala Lumpur for an IOC session this week, said in a statement. “This invitation phase is also an opportunity to determine which city will eventually be chosen by a National Olympic Committee. We are confident that USOC will choose the most appropriate city for a strong U.S. bid.”

The USOC has until Sept. 15 to submit a bid for the 2024 Olympics to the IOC.

“The USOC would very much like to see an American city host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024,” USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said in a statement Monday, following the end of Boston’s bid. “We will immediately begin to explore whether we can do so on a basis consistent with our guiding principles, to which we remain firmly committed.”

The other three finalists with Boston to be the U.S. bid city were Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

“I would be happy to engage in discussions with the USOC about how to present the strongest and most fiscally responsible bid on behalf of our city and nation,” Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement Monday.

D.C. 2024 Olympic bid CEO Russ Ramsey did not mention rekindling that bid in a statement Monday. A statement from mayor Muriel Bowser‘s chief of staff said concerning 2024, “it is too early to say.”

“We also remain committed to supporting America’s athletes, and as part of that mission, working with the USOC to bring the Olympic and Paralympic Games back to the United States,” Ramsey said.

A spokesperson for the San Francisco mayor’s office said Tuesday it has not been contacted by the USOC.

“Mayor [Ed] Lee is focused on his housing and affordability agenda for San Francisco,” the spokesperson said in an email when asked if Lee would be open to discussions with the USOC concerning reviving the San Francisco Olympic bid.

Confirmed bidders for the 2024 Olympics are Budapest, Hamburg, Paris and Rome. IOC members will vote to choose the 2024 Olympic host city in 2017.

Boston ends bid for 2024 Olympics