Michelle Obama to help Chicago's Olympic bid

WASHINGTON (AP) - An Obama is definitely going to Denmark to lobby for Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics.

The White House announced Friday that first lady Michelle Obama will travel to Copenhagen ahead of the Oct. 2 vote by the International Olympic Committee. President Barack Obama called IOC president Jacques Rogge personally to tell him that his priority right now has to be the fight to reform the health care system, but he'll continue to work on behalf of his adopted hometown.

"I think we all understand how committed the president is to the health care plan, and I think it's going to be well understood around the world and in the movement that he would love to be there," Chicago 2016 chairman Patrick Ryan said. "But this pressing legislative issue that he committed a major part of his campaign to, he has to see that through."

Chicago organizers and the U.S. Olympic Committee have openly lobbied for Obama to join them in Copenhagen, believing his presence could help bring the Summer Games back to the United States for the first time since 1996. Chicago is in a tight contest with Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo, and the presence of world leaders has been instrumental in the most recent votes.

Tony Blair helped London land the 2012 Games when he met IOC members in Singapore in 2005, and Vladimir Putin traveled to Guatemala City in 2007 to push Sochi's winning bid for the 2014 Winter Games.

Brazil's president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has already said he'll be in Copenhagen, as will King Juan Carlos of Spain. Japan has invited incoming Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Crown Prince Naruhito to attend.

But Rogge said Thursday that Chicago's chances shouldn't hinge on whether Obama makes a personal appearance in Denmark.

"If they want to come, this is an honor for the IOC," Rogge said. "We'll feel honored by their presence. It would be absolutely legitimate if they go to defend the bid of their country. We are not asking for heads of state to come there."

Obama has been an ardent supporter of Chicago's bid, videotaping four messages for IOC members in recent months. He likely would make another for Chicago's final presentation. Obama also is sending Valerie Jarrett, one of his top advisers and former vice chair of Chicago 2016, to Copenhagen.

"I don't think anyone has any question about his commitment," Ryan said.

IOC members spend months evaluating each bid, said Doug Arnot, Chicago 2016's operations chief who has been involved in several previous Olympic bids. That research isn't going to be erased by five minutes with a world leader.

"'The IOC members spend a great deal of time and a lot of effort trying to understand the bids and what the merits of the bid are for the advancement of the Olympic movement," Arnot said. "At the end of the day, luminaries are important, they certainly add a great deal to the session, but I think members will select the city they best feel advances the Olympic movement."

Besides, Michelle Obama brings some pretty good star power and international popularity of her own to the effort.

She was born and raised on Chicago's South Side, not far from where the Olympic stadium would be, and she and the president will host Olympic athletes at the White House next week. The athletes will visit local schools first, then join the Obamas and Chicago 2016 leaders at the White House in the afternoon.

"It is with great pride that I will go to Copenhagen to make the case for the United States to host the 2016 Olympics," she said in a statement. "There is no doubt in my mind that Chicago would offer the world a fantastic setting for these historic games and I hope that the Olympic torch will have the chance to burn brightly in my hometown."

As first lady, Mrs. Obama has highlighted opening doors for underserved communities, particularly young people. She said this fits with the city's pledge to encourage the involvement of children in the games, if it hosts, through the distribution of more than 500,000 tickets to local youth.

She has charmed people in her visits overseas, and even matched French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, a former model, in their fashion face-off. Ryan said in his travels around the world, IOC members have told him how "very, very impressed" they are with Mrs. Obama and said they hoped she'd come to Copenhagen.

They'll get their wish.

"I think she will represent our country extremely well as first lady, she'll represent her husband, her life partner, extremely well, and she'll represent our bid extremely well," Ryan said. "I think it's a great opportunity for us."

Mayor Richard M. Daley agreed. A lifelong Chicagoan, she's the perfect person to sell the city.

"Michelle's passion for Chicago is contagious," Daley said. "She will be able to share her unique perspective as to why Chicago and its residents are poised to further the Olympic movement across our country and around the world."


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