Obama heading to Copenhagen to back Chicago's Olympic bid

COPENHAGEN -- Chicago will have the most powerful pitchman of any U.S. city that has tried to win the right to host an Olympics, with President Obama due here for the International Olympic Committee's vote Friday on the 2016 Summer Games host.

Obama's presence could give Chicago a winning boost in a very tight race with Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo. Chicago and Rio are considered the frontrunners. Rio is bidding to bring the Olympics to South America for the first time.

"President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama symbolize the hope, opportunity and inspiration that makes Chicago great, and we are honored to have two of our city's most accomplished residents leading our delegation in Copenhagen," Chicago Mayor Richard Daley said in a statement.

When the IOC chose the 2012 Olympic host in 2005, then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair lobbied IOC members personally leading into the vote, and his presence was instrumental in helping London edge Paris by four votes. Two years later, then-Russian President Vladimir Putin was present when the IOC awarded the 2014 Winter Olympics to Sochi, Russia.

Brazil's president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and King Juan Carlos of Spain also plan to be in Copenhagen as does Japan's new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama.

Obama, though, is sure to be the headliner.

"I think a lot of Americans don't realize — maybe they're all caught up in the 50.1%-49.9% debate on health care — but out there in the rest of the world, Obama is a superstar," IOC member Dick Pound of Canada says.

Obama's presence here has been up in the air since he personally called IOC president Jacques Rogge three weeks ago and told Rogge his efforts toward health-insurance reform might prevent him from attending.

"Of course, the IOC is very honored with the presence of dignitaries, be them heads of state or heads of government," Rogge said in a teleconference with reporters last week. "This is something that is an honor for the IOC. It is also reassurance that public authorities are behind the bid and will be supportive. However, this is absolutely not a requirement of the IOC."

No U.S. president ever has attended an Olympic host-city vote. When New York bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics, it brought then-New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Michelle Obama is a Chicago native, and the President, who grew up in Hawaii, considers it his adopted hometown. They already have demonstrated support for the Chicago bid, hosting an event at the White House last week.

"There is no greater expression of the support our bid enjoys, from the highest levels of government and throughout our country, than to have President Obama join us in Copenhagen for the pinnacle moment in our bid," Chicago 2016 chairman Pat Ryan said in a statement.

Obama will be part of Chicago 2016's final presentation to IOC members on Friday. He also wrote a letter, dated Sept. 10, to IOC members in which he noted that "We have already established a White House Office of Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport to serve the Games, and you can count on our government to support Chicago's quest to host an unforgettable event and strengthen the Olympic Movement."

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood — all from Illinois — also will be in Copenhagen. Jarrett will accompany the First Lady, who is scheduled to arrive in Denmark on Wednesday.

The Chicago delegation also includes TV host Oprah Winfrey and Olympic luminaries such as gymnasts Nastia Liukin and Nadia Comaneci, track star Michael Johnson, and former NBA players Dikembe Mutombo and David Robinson.

U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst said in a statement Monday he appreciated the President's "unwavering support."

"The Olympic and Paralympic Games bring the world together for the peaceful pursuit of excellence, and in the spirit of international outreach and solidarity. These principles are perfectly aligned with the vision of the Obama Administration and our country's ideals," Probst said in a statement.