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Obama leads Chicago’s 2016 Olympics bid

By Stephen Collinson
Agence France-Presse



WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama will make a whirlwind trip to Copenhagen this week to put his global popularity on the line in a last-minute pitch for his hometown Chicago's 2016 Olympic bid.

The White House said Obama would arrive in Denmark on Friday, hours before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) votes on the destiny of the Summer Games after a final battle between Chicago, Madrid, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro.

The trip represents a change of heart: the president had previously said the pressure of his under-fire health care reform drive would keep him at home, and asked his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama to go instead.

His reversal sets up a joust on the Olympian political stage between the US president and leaders from Spain, Japan and Brazil, who are also expected in Denmark to push their nations' respective bids.

The White House announced the trip hours after Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said he would push Tokyo's bid to host the Games, though US officials said Japan's move had no bearing on the decision.

Michelle Obama will go to Copenhagen before her husband on Wednesday, with Obama's longtime Chicago friend Valerie Jarrett, who now serves as a senior advisor and head of the White House office of Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport.

Both Obamas will make a presentation on their hometown as part of the Windy City's final pitch, the White House said.

"They will discuss why Chicago is best to host the 2016 Summer Games, and how the United States is eager to bring the world together to celebrate the ideals of the Olympic movement," the White House said in a statement.

Chicago's bid leaders reacted with delight.

"President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama symbolize the hope, opportunity and inspiration that makes Chicago great," said Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

"We are honored to have two of our city's most accomplished residents leading our delegation in Copenhagen."

Chicago 2016 Chairman and CEO Patrick Ryan added: "There is no greater expression of the support our bid enjoys, from the highest levels of government and throughout our country, than to have President Obama join us in Copenhagen for the pinnacle moment in our bid."

US Olympic Committee Chairman Larry Probst said Obama's move "speaks volumes" about the US government's "unprecedented support for this bid and for the worldwide Olympic Movement."

The White House repeatedly said Obama was wooing officials on "America's" Olympic bid, rather than a purely Chicagoan venture, seeking to blunt any criticism that the president's hometown was getting special treatment.

In addition to the Obamas, famed US Olympians will also boost Chicago's team in Copenhagen, including track and field greats Michael Johnson and Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Romanian-born gymnast Nadia Comaneci, who got the first perfect 10.0 score in Olympic history before defecting to the United States.

Talk show queen Oprah Winfrey is also expected.

Earlier this month, Obama, a sports fan and devotee of basketball and golf, declared at a White House event: "We want these games."

"We are fired up about this," said Obama, a former US senator from Illinois and resident of Chicago.

King Juan Carlos of Spain, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Hatoyama are also expected to travel to Copenhagen to lobby the 100 members of the IOC ahead of the vote.

High-powered lobbying by government leaders and royals was seen as a major factor in swaying the IOC as it selected recent Olympic hosts London for the 2012 Summer Games and Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Games.

London was awarded the 2012 Summer Games partly because former British Prime Minister Tony Blair went to Singapore to lobby.

The momentum a month ago appeared to be with vibrant Rio de Janeiro, which is in contention to become the first South American city to host the Olympics.

But the gritty Midwestern US city has fought back in style, and Obama's political star power will give another priceless boost to the bid.

Should he win reelection in 2012, and Chicago emerges triumphant on Friday, Obama would be at the end of his second term by the time the Games took place.

In Denmark, the Obamas will meet Queen Margrethe and the president will also hold talks with Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, the White House said.

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