Just as London was popping the champagne and Paris settled in for a long brood, Columbia's Olympic dreams expired. With the opening of an envelope in Singapore, a $23 million revamp of Baker Field slipped through Columbia's unlucky fingers.
Back in 2000, the University was approached by the New York Committee for the Olympic Games about the possibility of using the Baker Field sports complex at 218th Street as the venue for the field hockey events. NYCOG originally contacted then-provost Jonathan Cole and soon began work with associate athletic director Albert Carlson and then-athletic director John Reeves.
"As a venue, the views and the stadium made Baker Field incredible," commented Marcos Díaz González, the director of venue planning for NYC 2012 at the time. "It was our first choice for field hockey, and we never really considered any others."
But Columbia was a little more tentative at first, wary of what an agreement might entail.
"NYC 2012 needed a commitment," Carlson said. "Our main concern was giving the facilities up for as much as a year."
Indeed, in order to refurbish Baker Field to make it comply with International Olympic Committee regulations, work would have needed to start as early as 2011.
Shortly thereafter, preliminary agreements were signed off by the University. Columbia insisted that NYC 2012 would have to provide alternate venues for the Columbia teams displaced by the refurbishments before the spring of 2012. Possible replacements, according to Albert Carlson and Dr. William Ebner, associate athletic director for facility operations, included Fordham University's stadium, Randall's Island, and even the Meadowlands, where the football team has played on one previous occasion.
"It was an exciting process," Carlson said, "but early on, it scared the hell out of me. We needed to protect the student-athletes, and make sure they had a place to play."
Then in June 2004, with the final Olympic city decision little over a year away, Katie Beach took over as the head coach of Columbia's field hockey team. As a member of the 1996 USA Olympic team, she contacted the Circle of Olympians and volunteered her services to the New York bid. As a result, she became one of the athletes selected to pitch the bid to the IOC and appeared in the video shown to the voters in Singapore last July.
"They didn't do much with the site in terms of preparation and how they would lay things out," Beach said of NYC 2012. "I was involved in giving them feedback on what it's like to play at Baker Field."
Beach added that when the NYC 2012 committee visited the site, they were impressed with what Columbia had to offer, particularly because the site required relatively little construction.
Then, last fall, the University and NYC 2012 reached a final agreement as Columbia's athletic director John Reeves retired and was replaced by Dr. M. Dianne Murphy.
"It went pretty smoothly," Carlson said. "Our needs were met, and the transition was pretty simple."
González confirmed the good rapport between the committee and the Columbia administration, describing the latter as "incredibly helpful."
The agreement outlined plans for two competition pitches and practice pitches in the baseball outfield. NYC 2012 would have added 2,000 seats behind Wien Stadium's end zones for the first competition pitch and converted the soccer field to high-quality turf. They had additionally planned a second set of bleachers for the second competition pitch, but those were eventually scrapped. The changes, according to Katie Beach, would have made Baker Field "one of the best facilities for a college program in the country."
A second floor over Chrystie fieldhouse would also have been added, converting it into a state-of-the-art facility, with new locker rooms and other amenities. As for athlete access, the boathouse would have been reconfigured to welcome arrivals from the Olympic Village via special ferry during the Games.
Once the Olympics were over, NYC 2012 "wanted to leave a legacy," González explained.
"Obviously, some temporary stuff would have been pulled out, but anything permanent would have stayed, and we would have benefited from that," Carlson added.
Furthermore, after the Games, the pitches would have been relaid free of charge with Columbia's choice of surface. Still, this would not have affected Columbia's recent change of turf at Wien Stadium, which forced the field hockey team to play home games elsewhere.
NYCOG budgeted 23 million dollars for the project, much of it from various sponsors.
"While the money would have been nice, NYC 2012 would only have delayed any plans we have for Baker Field," Ebner said.
Indeed, the University already has a master plan and has selected a contractor for renovations of the sports complex. Dr. Ebner said that he is hoping for plans from the contractor by next January.
Rumors of a 2016 New York bid are already circulating, but there is no official word, and, in any event, Columbia has not yet been contacted with the possibility of hosting field hockey.
Though plans for the future are already in motion, people are still looking back to last July and wondering what could have been.
"I suspected that we were a long shot," Carlson said, "But I was obviously disappointed because it would have been an opportunity for Columbia to really join with the rest of the New York community."