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For Obama, No Payoff From Gamble of a Personal Pitch

The International Olympic Committee has selected Rio de Janeiro to host the 2016 Summer Games despite unprecedented lobbying by President Obama to host the Games in Chicago.

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By Michael A. Fletcher and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 3, 2009

From the beginning, it was a gamble.

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When President Obama decided to lend the prestige of his office and his charisma to Chicago's bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, the hope was that a personal appeal from the leader of the United States would guarantee success for his adopted home town.

It didn't work. Olympic officials swiftly rejected Chicago's bid Friday, leaving Obama disappointed and a bit philosophical as he explained why his effort fell flat.

"You can play a great game and still not win," Obama told reporters at the White House shortly after returning from Denmark, where he had schmoozed with officials of the International Olympic Committee. "Although I wish that we had come back with better news from Copenhagen, I could not be prouder."

Obama also congratulated Brazil for becoming the first South American country to host the Olympics. He said he told Brazilian President Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva that "our athletes will see him on the field of competition in 2016."

Even before Obama's helicopter lifted off from the South Lawn, the start of his whirlwind trip to the Danish capital, Republicans were calling the effort a distraction for a president already dealing with a health-care reform bill, job losses in the economy, Iran's nuclear ambitions and a fateful decision about the U.S. military's mission in Afghanistan.

The IOC's quick dismissal of Chicago only intensified the criticism.

"President Obama fails to get the Olympics while unemployment goes to 9.8% Iran continues nuclear program," former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) tweeted. "America needs focused leadership."

GOP political consultant Mark McKinnon called Obama's trip "high-risk, low-reward." He added: "I suspect most Americans would prefer Obama in the role of president rather than the head of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce."

IOC President Jacques Rogge has said that heads of state are not required to attend the committee's meeting, but recent history shows that their participation can be decisive in landing Olympic Games.

Then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair successfully lobbied members on behalf of London's bid for the 2012 Summer Games in 2005 in Singapore. Two years later, then-Russian President Vladimir Putin helped land the 2014 Winter Games for the city of Sochi.

Getting the message were the heads of state of the other three finalists -- Tokyo, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro -- all of whom made personal pitches in Copenhagen.


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