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Monday, September 28, 2009
Obama to lead '16 Chicago bid with trip

Associated Press

COPENHAGEN -- President Barack Obama is hitting the campaign trail again.

Obama is going to Copenhagen after all, joining first lady Michelle Obama to support Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics.

Obama plans to leave Washington on Thursday, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told The Associated Press on Monday, getting to Denmark in time to be part of his adopted hometown's final presentation to the International Olympic Committee.

"His physical presence just magnifies all of what he's been saying," Chicago 2016 chairman Pat Ryan said, a big smile on his face. "It just puts a huge exclamation point on the support of the bid and the support of the Olympic movement and the respect for the movement and the respect for the IOC members themselves."

Barack Obama
President Obama, speaking on health care earlier this month, will be the first sitting U.S. president to personally lobby the IOC at a host city vote.

The question remains whether his presence will give Chicago the edge over Madrid, Tokyo and slight favorite Rio de Janeiro in Friday's vote.

The contest is tight, with the decision expected to come down to a few votes. While IOC president Jacques Rogge has taken great pains to say government leaders aren't expected to make an appearance, their presence has been instrumental in recent votes.

When London was vying for the 2012 Olympics, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, went to Singapore ahead of the vote and spent two days lobbying IOC members.

This was no cruise-through-the-lobby, shake-a-few-hands type of thing. He invited IOC members to his hotel suite for one-on-one meetings, and his sincerity made a huge impression on voters.

Two years later, Vladimir Putin did much the same thing as Russian president in support of Sochi's bid for the 2014 Olympics. He also broke with his usual practice of speaking Russian, delivering his portion of the final presentation in English.

Obama will have little, if any, time to meet personally with IOC members -- but his wife will.

She plans to spend Wednesday and Thursday meeting individual members, and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett sat down with Blair last week for advice on how best to navigate the process.

"One conversation or one example or illustration that connects could make the difference," Michelle Obama said.

Obama's power and personality will make an impact, IOC executive board member Gerhard Heiberg said. But members have already spent much time studying each bid and reading the evaluation committee's report.

"I am not sure that it is the best thing that could happen," Heiberg said.

Of course, it's not as if the other three cities -- Rio, in particular -- are scrimping on the A-listers. Madrid has King Juan Carlos and former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch. Japan's new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, said Monday he'll be there, too.

Not only will Rio have Pele, the IOC's athlete of the century, but bid committee president Carlos Arthur Nuzman is known and liked by all of his fellow IOC members.

It's a very strong indication of his support by his physical presence, taking time away from a very critical health care debate to fly overnight and show the support for the bid and show the respect for the IOC membership.

-- Chicago 2016 chairman Pat Ryan

And then there's Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. He's already charmed many an IOC member -- and he never misses a chance to remind them how badly Brazil wants the Games.

"I think Brazil will win because we have the best proposal," Silva said Monday. "We have the commitment from the city, the state and the federal government."

The Games have never been held in South America, and the idea of making history resonates with some IOC members. During its June presentation to the IOC, Rio brought out a huge map showing where all of the Olympics have been held, with dots blanketing Europe, Asia and North America -- and the entire South American continent bare.

It also brought the head of Brazil's central bank, Henrique Meirelles, to give assurances about the strength and stability of the Brazilian economy.

Of course, the United States has big bucks behind it, too. The IOC's largest chunk of revenue already comes from its contract with NBC, and negotiations for the U.S. rights to the 2014 and 2016 Games will begin after the vote. It's safe to say an Olympics in Chicago would fetch a higher price -- and more bidders -- than anywhere else.

Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president to personally lobby the IOC at a host city vote. When New York City bid for the 2012 Games, then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was the highest-ranking U.S. official to attend.

But it's not simply his title that makes his appearance so compelling. He is the first black president of the United States, young and charismatic -- a "transformational figure in the world today," longtime IOC member Dick Pound said two weeks ago.

"I think it is a great development for the Chicago bid, and I am sure the bidding committee is delighted with such an extraordinary demonstration of the president's support," Pound said Monday in an e-mail.

Obama's Chicago home is just a few blocks from the planned Olympic stadium, and he's been an ardent supporter of the bid since his days as a senator. He's already videotaped four messages on Chicago's behalf for IOC members, and has been working the phones and writing letters of support in recent weeks. On Sept. 16, he and the first lady hosted a pep rally at the White House.

"It's a very strong indication of his support by his physical presence, taking time away from a very critical health care debate to fly overnight and show the support for the bid and show the respect for the IOC membership," Ryan said. "And also, frankly, it shows his great commitment and respect for the Olympic movement."

Chicago's bid leaders were doing a walkthrough of their presentation when the White House announced Obama's travel plans. While they tried to contain their enthusiasm -- nobody wants to do anything that could smack of overconfidence -- some of their supporters weren't nearly as restrained.

"Obama will go to Copenhagen! We just got a lot closer to bringing the Olympics home to Chicago!" three-time Olympic champion Rowdy Gaines said in a post on Twitter.

"Like icing on the cake," fellow Chicagoan and two-time Olympian Dwyane Wade said.