Obama to Travel to Copenhagen for IOC Vote on 2016 Games

President Barack Obama will travel to Denmark to support Chicago's bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, projecting the highest-ever White House profile in lobbying for the international event. (Sept. 28)
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 29, 2009

CHICAGO. Sept. 28 -- In the final days of Chicago's quest to host the 2016 Olympics, President Obama is making himself a central player in the effort to bring the Summer Games to his adopted home town, raising the political stakes for the White House with no assurance that the Windy City will win.

Obama announced Monday that he will fly to Denmark for a speaking part in Chicago's final presentation to the International Olympic Committee, ending what has been a behind-the-scenes lobbying effort by the White House and Obama friends on behalf of their home town. First lady Michelle Obama, born and raised on the city's South Side, will also address IOC members, who will make their decision Friday, choosing among Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.

Obama said in mid-September that health-care legislation probably would keep him too busy to make the trip, but he now plans to leave Washington on Thursday night for Copenhagen, returning Friday afternoon.

"I think the president believes health care is in better shape," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. "I believe he felt strongly and personally that he should go and make the case for the United States, and that's what he's going to do."

Obama appears to be taking a calculated risk. He is setting up the Olympic bidding process as a measure of his powers of diplomatic persuasion while simultaneously confronting issues such as health care, Afghan policy and Iran's nuclear ambitions -- potentially raising questions anew about whether he is doing too much at once.

"You're darned if you do, you're darned if you don't. I'd rather be on the side of doing it," Michelle Obama told reporters, referring to her husband's Olympics decision. "One conversation or one example or illustration that connects could make a difference, and our view is we're not taking a chance."

The competing cities will each be represented in Copenhagen by a head of government, but Obama will be the first U.S. president to make such a personal pitch.

IOC decisions are always unpredictable, and, as usual, several competing factors are at play this year.

By 2016, it will have been 20 years since the United States hosted a Summer Olympics (Atlanta, in 1996). Rio officials, however, are making the case that a South American city has never had an Olympics, winter or summer.

Gibbs called the Chicago bid "far and away" the strongest of the contenders and said in response to potential criticism: "Surely it's within the purview of the president to root for America."

Loyalty to Chicago was central to Obama's choice. And the connection between the city's host committee and the White House could hardly be closer, with speechwriters, Cabinet officers and other administration figures working to capture an Olympics whose opening ceremony would take place three blocks from the Obamas' South Side house.

At last week's meetings at the United Nations and the Group of 20 economic summit in Pittsburgh, the Obamas made pitches to foreign leaders. They have also made personal appeals to IOC members, an effort that will intensify when Michelle Obama arrives in Copenhagen on Wednesday.

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