By Iain Rogers and Sonya Dowsett
MADRID (Reuters) - Spaniards reacted with disbelief and disappointment on Saturday after Madrid was eliminated as a possible host of the 2020 summer Games in the opening round of voting by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The elimination comes as Spaniards are swallowing cuts in health and education and battling one of the worst unemployment rates in Europe of 26 percent. Many had hoped a winning bid would bring a welcome note of cheer to the city.
Tokyo was eventually awarded the right to host the Games after beating Istanbul in the final round of voting.
"Nobody expected this, we're in total shock," said Jennifer Pareja, a water polo player who competed for Spain in the 2012 Olympics in an interview broadcast from Buenos Aires where she had formed part of the Madrid delegation. "I'm lost for words."
The elimination marked Madrid's third successive failed attempt to host the Games.
Hundreds of Spaniards who had gathered around the city's Puerta de Alcala monument to watch a live link from Buenos Aires stood in disbelief as the lights on the stage were switched off. Hoardes of people began to make their way home.
"This is a huge disappointment," said Antonio Galan, a 45-year-old food industry worker, as he walked away from the gathering. "It seems to be more to do with political influence than sport."
Madrid had been many commentators' favourite to win the right to stage the Games with a bid focused on being ready, safe and cheap. Madrid and Istanbul tied in second place and then went to a head-to-head vote to see who would go through to the next round.
Madrid had characterised its bid as low-cost because most of the infrastructure and sports venues had already been built.
It had said the associated infrastructure and investment costs it would have had to make to host the Games, like improving transport, would have been less than the $3.1 billion budget for the Games themselves.
This is in contrast to Istanbul and Tokyo, both of which expected to spend more on projects like infrastructure to prepare for hosting the Games than putting on the event.
Disappointed would-be revellers in central Madrid said the economic crisis was receding and the recession should not have been a factor in deciding the winning bid.
"I don't think there would have been a better time to have the Games in Spain," said Miguel Moreno, a 63-year-old retiree. "We were really excited about the idea of having a Games here. I don't think the economy should have played a role."
(Reporting By Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Toby Davis)