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First Lady Michelle Obama Will Help Chicago Make Its Final Pitch

Bid committee chairman Patrick G. Ryan is "honored and grateful" to have Michelle Obama's help.
Bid committee chairman Patrick G. Ryan is "honored and grateful" to have Michelle Obama's help. (By M. Spencer Green -- Associated Press)

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By Michael A. Fletcher and Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 12, 2009

First lady Michelle Obama has been tapped to travel to Copenhagen next month to back Chicago's final push to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, lending serious star power to her town's lobbying.

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The White House announced Friday that the first lady would join the U.S. delegation making a final appeal to the International Olympic Committee before it makes its decision Oct. 2.

U.S. Olympic Committee officials had pushed hard for President Obama to attend, but he could not commit because his health-care proposal is at a crucial stage, the White House said.

The heads of state for other bidding cities -- Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Madrid -- have said they will attend or are considering it.

The first lady seems to be an ideal fit. She was born and raised on Chicago's South Side and is popular overseas.

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, a longtime Chicagoan who has served as vice chairman of the city's Olympic committee, will join the first lady in at the IOC meeting. Schmoozing and last-minute lobbying could prove decisive in the IOC's decision on a host city , which is why most contenders send top leaders to back the final pitch to the committee.

Patrick G. Ryan, chairman of the Chicago bid committee, said the group is "honored and grateful" that the first lady will make the trip. In a written statement, Ryan said the first lady will tell IOC members that the Olympic values of "hope, opportunity and the promise of creating a better, more peaceful world for the next generation" happen to "align perfectly" with the values of the administration "and our entire country."

Chicago and U.S. Olympic officials point out that the Obama administration has demonstrated its support of the Chicago Games by creating four videos backing the bid. The administration also has formed a White House Office of Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport, which on Wednesday will host an event in which a group of Olympians will visit local schools before joining the president and first lady at the White House.

Obama has long voiced strong support for bringing the Olympics to his adoptive hometown. In June 2008, fresh from claiming the Democratic nomination, Obama stood beside Mayor Richard M. Daley and then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who is now his White House chief of staff, and predicted that "Chicago's going to win the 2016 Olympics."

At the time, the IOC said Chicago was trailing Tokyo and Madrid in the Olympics sweepstakes with the initial field cut to four cities. More than a year later, the leading candidates for the games are presumed to be Chicago and Rio de Janeiro, which is vying to become the first South American city to host the games. IOC President Jacques Rogge has said that all four cities remain contenders.

In 2008, Obama mused, "In 2016, I'll be wrapping up my second term as president. I can't think of a better way than to be walking into Washington Park . . . and announcing to the world, 'Let the Games begin!' "

Slevin reported from Chicago. Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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