MADRID - Tens of thousands of Spaniards were devastated after Madrid lost its bid to host the 2020 Olympics on Saturday amid fears about the country's economy and unemployment rate.
It was the third straight time the capital failed in attempts to win the Summer Games. The International Olympic Committee meeting in Buenos Aires eliminated the city in the first round of voting, with Tokyo beating Istanbul in the final round.
"What a blow," Carlos Vinuesa, a 36-year-old owner of a food transport company, said. "It's doubly disappointing because we lost both the bid and the party that Madrid had prepared. We had come with my family of three children, and frankly, this is a disaster."
Once considered a long shot because of Spain's deep financial crisis, Madrid's bid gained momentum in the run-up to the IOC's vote by arguing the games would stimulate economic growth.
But the crowd watching on large TV screens at Madrid's Puerta de Alcala square was dejected when the news was announced at 9 p.m. (1900 GMT, 3 p.m. EDT), just when the streets of the city, known for its late dinners and even later nightlife, began to fill with nocturnal revelers.
The timing helped swell the large crowd already in place next to Retiro park, where Madrid had planned to hold beach volley matches during the Games.
But as a dark cloud appeared in time to dampen the spirits of the crowd with a rain shower, the party-like atmosphere was thoroughly ruined when IOC President Jacques Rogge announced that Madrid had been eliminated after a run-off vote with Istanbul following their tie in the first round.
A deathly hush descended on the crowd and the music came to a halt. The presenters on the stage thanked the crowd for coming and bade everyone good night. People immediately fell silent and started drifting away.
"I am in shock," said 42-year-old Marta Castro, a housewife with three children. "I thought that it was a tiebreaker to see which city won and it turns out that it was to see which lost, and Madrid went out first. How sad! I hadn't imagined it."
Madrid has now lost in its bids to host the Summer Games in 1972, 2012, 2016 and 2020.
Madrid was aspiring to become the second Spanish city to hold the Olympics. Barcelona was able to transform itself from a postindustrial town into one of Europe's biggest tourist destinations through the interest generated by the 1992 Summer Games.
The Madrid bid had linked the economic recovery of the capital and the rest of the struggling country suffering from a double-dip recession and 27 percent unemployment to winning the right to hold the Games, saying it would attract much-needed investment.
Many Spaniards hoped the chance to host the world's biggest sporting event would have created jobs after the economy had been in recession for most of the past four years.
But Madrid's "responsible," thrifty bid based on having 80 percent of its venues already built wasn't enough to convince the IOC members.
"It's unbelievable that we went out first," 67-year-old retiree Javier Escudero said. "And to think that we had almost everything ready with 80 percent built? And that they said Barcelona organized the best Olympics ever? They didn't pay any attention to us. We're nothing. There it's only politics that matter and we aren't good at that. It's a shame and a pity."
The economy wasn't the only problem. Questions over its shaky anti-doping record hurt its past bids, and even a new anti-doping law passed recently apparently didn't assuage all the lingering concerns.
"The initial shock at the decision is fading, and we can take away the commitment and the union that we all showed here. If that wasn't compensated, well, that was never in our hands," said basketball player Pau Gasol, who formed a part of Spain's delegation and helped give its final presentation earlier Saturday. "The IOC voted according to its criteria. It's too bad because I think we deserved to at least reach the final."