Consumer tip: Do not start saving up money to buy those tickets for a 2024 Bay Area Olympics just yet.

In fact, by my estimation, odds are 99-1 against the games ever happening here. Admittedly, those are unscientific odds. They are based solely on my four decades of covering the Olympic landscape. The actual odds could be much worse.

Frankly, it came as a surprise last week when the United States Olympic Committee announced that San Francisco was one of four cities identified as "potential candidates" for a USA bid to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in just 10 years. The other three cities were Los Angeles, Boston and Washington.

Why was it such an eyebrow raiser to see San Francisco's name on that list? Because it was the first time most of us knew that anyone in Northern California even had any interest in the 2024 Games.

It turns out that the USOC sent out letters to 35 cities, asking if there was interest in bidding for the 2024 Games. San Francisco's mayor, Ed Lee, decided to respond in the affirmative, along with five other cities. And wow, what do you know? Lee made the cut down to four! Sounds like it was the equivalent of getting one of those letters from a time-share condo resort that begin: "You may have won, if you reply now!"


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In fairness, Lee did do a little groundwork. He assembled a few people to examine the Olympic possibilities. The group includes Anne Cribbs, who worked so strenuously and passionately to help assemble Bay Area bids for the 2012 and 2016 Games -- both of which ultimately failed.

"It's really preliminary," said Cribbs of this potential bid. "It's all just exploratory."

The exploration surely will uncover nothing new. We all know that San Francisco cannot be the host "city" for any Olympics in a singular sense. It's too small a municipality, both in population and square mileage. Thus, any local bid for the Olympics must involve the entire Bay Area, with the bulk of events taking place outside San Francisco.

And therein lies the rub.

Like so many outside entities, the U.S. Olympic Committee doesn't "get" how Northern California works. That effectively doomed previous Olympic bids.

Yes, San Francisco is our undeniable postcard/tourist capital. But eight of 10 people in the Bay Area live somewhere else. More dwell in San Jose, which is the larger city. The area's business capital is in Silicon Valley. The education capitals are in Berkeley and Palo Alto. Right now, Oakland might be the Bay Area hipster capital. Marin County has its own center of attitudinal gravity.

In other words, this isn't like other metropolitan areas in America, which have one dominant city and entirely subservient suburbs. Each corner of the Bay Area has its own vibe and agenda. Getting all the political entities on the same page is terribly difficult.

But incredibly, with Cribbs and her people working overtime, such cooperation actually occurred in 2002. That's when the Bay Area made its last serious run at an Olympics, bidding for the 2012 Games. The plan was realistic and budget conscious. The proposed track and field venue was the old Stanford Stadium. Other events were assigned to existing facilities all around the bay. The Athletes Village was planned for Moffett Field in Mountain View.

The USOC shot down the bid dismissively, saying that too much stuff was too far apart.

In response, Bay Area Olympic boosters submitted an alternate and more compact plan in a bid for the 2016 Games four years later. The fulcrum was a proposed new 49ers stadium at Candlestick Point that would serve as the primary venue. But the football team felt it was being ramrodded into accepting the plan. As discussions disintegrated, the Olympic bid went south, and so did the 49ers -- who grew tired of dealing with Mayor Gavin Newsom's imperiousness and evacuated to Santa Clara.

Which (shock!) proved once more that San Francisco can't go solo on something like this. To his credit, Mayor Lee says he will reach out to other Bay Area mayors who are interested. But time is relatively short. The bid must be submitted by 2017. Plus, the USOC may still decide to not even submit an American bid this time around. Stiff global competition such as Paris and Rome and Istanbul are expected to compete against any USA bid.

Cribbs is still not dissuaded. She thinks the bid-selection process is more fair than it was in 2002 and worth pursuing. As a teenager, she won a gold medal in swimming at the 1960 Rome Games and has been a lifelong Olympic evangelist.

"I love the Olympic Games, and I love the Bay Area," she said Saturday. "I could still see them here. After we didn't get the bid for 2012, I could still drive by Moffett Field and see the Olympic Village that would have been there."

The 2024 Bay Area Olympics is also a nice vision to embrace. Don't expect to ever actually touch it.

Read Mark Purdy's blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/purdy. Contact him at mpurdy@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MercPurdy.