Going for the Gold: Obamas Ready to Bring Olympics to Chicago

Experts say the first couple faces stiff competition from Rio, Madrid and Tokyo.

ByYunji De Nies, Maureen White and Huma Khan
September 29, 2009, 6:56 AM

Sept. 29, 2009 -- The Obamas are pulling out all the presidential stops to bring home the gold.

The competition to host the 2016 Summer Olympics is fierce, and the first couple is taking a lesson from world leaders who have succeeded in bringing the games to their respective countries.

And they're not leaving anything to chance. President Obama will travel 4,000 miles to Copenhagen, Denmark, and join the first lady Friday to charm and attempt to persuade members of the International Olympic Committee to hold the 2016 games in their hometown of Chicago. The "dynamic duo," as the White House calls them, will be joined by another celebrity -- TV mega-mogul Oprah Winfrey.

"This is extraordinary," ABC News consultant and USA Today sports columnist Christine Brenner said on "Good Morning America" today. "It's just rock stars showing up left and right, and I think the Obamas are doing the right thing. The president didn't have much of a choice. Being from Chicago, he had to do this."

The first family's home city is among four being considered to host the Olympics, along with Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo. Michelle Obama, who leaves for Denmark today, said the gloves are off, and she likened the competition to the grueling final days of the campaign.

Insiders say the 106 members of the IOC, who will make their final decision Friday, like to be courted. With that in mind, British Prime Minister Tony Blair pulled out all the stops -- even meeting individually with undecided IOC members in his hotel room before the final vote -- and brought the 2012 games to London.

"In many ways, this is like high school student council elections -- who you're friends with, who you like, who you talked to last," Brenner said.

The IOC is largely made up of European aristocratic men, a mix of VIPs, royalty and former Olympians. Only 16 women are part of that group, which experts say is something of an "old-boys network."

"There's no question in my mind but that the very last moment is the most important moment, and that's why it was so important that Tony Blair went to the IOC at the time that London was being considered for the Games," said former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who also served as chief executive of the organizing committee that brought the winter Olympics to Salt Lake City in 2002. "I think his attending there is, without a question, attributing to the fact that London won the games."

"He lobbied them hard. He committed to them that the games would be successful, and that made all the difference in the world," Romney told ABC News. "Those things make an enormous difference."

Obamas Going for the Gold

The members will likely want to take pictures with the Obamas, who have gained somewhat of a celebrity status internationally, and also get their autographs.

Over the years, Olympic selection has been plagued with scandal. The last games hosted by United States were marred by controversy in which IOC members were accused of taking bribes from Salt Lake's organizing committee. In the past, members have also been accused of trading votes for vacations, cash and even plastic surgery.

Lately, IOC members have favored world leaders. Blair won for Great Britain, and Russia's Vladimir Putin scored for Sochi in 2014.

"I think the people in the IOC want to understand the level of the commitment of the host country," Romney said. "Does the host country really care? Is this going to be a high priority? And nothing says that like having the presence of the leader of that country and, particularly, the case of Barack Obama."

But there's also a lot of horse racing going on behind the scenes, Brenner said.

Rio de Janeiro is considered a top contender among the competing cities. Because the Olympics have never been held in South America, holding the games in Brazil would mean a whole new market and audience. Madrid will be helped by Spaniard Juan Antonio Samaranch's being an honorary president of the Olympic committee. Many say Obama's presence in Copenhagen also boosts Chicago's chances significantly.

But the Obamas can expect some stiff competition this week. The president of Brazil will be in Denmark, along with plenty of blue blood -- the king and queen of Spain, and the prince and princess of Japan.

Michelle Obama says her presentation will be very personal, and that just might be the key.

"My father was disabled, and I think what it would have meant for him to see someone in his shoes compete," she told reporters Monday. "Kids need to see that and that needs to be celebrated just as much, if not more."

The first lady will talk about her own ties to Chicago, and why it would make the best host city. Her own home is blocks from where many of the events would be held. After holding one-on-one meetings with IOC members and other influential parties, Obama will make a presentation alongside her husband Friday, and take questions.

"We're not going to do a joint poem or anything," she said. "We're not going to sing together."

There's a strong chance some members could be swayed at the very last moment, which is why it makes such a difference to make an impressive performance at the last session.

"I think the whole strategy here is to roll up our selves, work hard until the absolute last vote is counted," White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, who will be accompanying the first lady to Copenhagen today, told ABC News. "We have Oprah, a world icon, going as well. She is going to hit the ground running. It is really a team effort. And it says a lot about this spirit of Chicago and the spirit of our country."

It remains to be seen whether the Obamas come back with the gold or return empty-handed, but White House officials said they at least want to give it their all.

"The gloves are off," the first lady said Monday, smiling.

Speaking to a handful of reporters at the White House, she relayed a story from last weekend's G-20 summit in Pittsburgh.

At the spouses dinner that she hosted, she said she greeted the first lady of Brazil, then, "I said, I'm going to hug you now, and then I'm going after you. And she said, 'You too.'"

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events