Michelle Obama Meets IOC President, Pushes Chicago for 2016 Olympics

Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey play the role of ambassadors for Chicago.

ByABC News
October 1, 2009, 7:14 AM

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Oct. 1, 2009— -- It's less than 24 hours before the Obamas make their final presentation to the International Olympic Committee to push Chicago for the 2016 Olympics, and White House officials say the first lady is still adjusting and working on her remarks.

Michelle Obama has been holding a flurry of one-on-one closed door, 15 minute meetings with IOC members. This morning she met with IOC President Jacque Rogge, probably one of the most sought-after leaders in the sports world this week. White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett said the Chicago-native is "speaking from the heart" to seal the deal.

"So many of them [the IOC members] said they're not just selecting a city. They are selecting people because this is really about relationships. Well, the first lady is an extraordinary ambassador for the United States and I think that she is connecting with everybody that she's had the privilege and honor to meet," Jarrett told ABC News in Copenhagen. "It's about building trust and building a relationship and also it's about recognizing that you can't take a vote for granted."

On the 2008 campaign trail, Mrs. Obama earned the nickname "the closer" because she could deliver key last minute votes for her husband. Jarrett says Mrs. Obama needs to tap into those strengths again.

"We were teasing her this morning and we said, 'Well, it's time for the closer to come out again,'" Jarrett said with a laugh.

The first lady is leading the U.S. delegation to bring the 2016 Olympic games to Chicago, a delegation that includes some star athletes and some very high powered help.

"I'm sort of an ambassador, am I not?" A laughing Oprah Winfrey said. "I've appointed myself ambassador for Chicago."

Mrs. Obama has likened the trip to the presidential campaign. From the moment her feet touched the ground here in Denmark, the first lady has been in campaign mode, lending her clout to Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympic Summer Games.

"We are fired up and ready to go," she said at a welcome reception for Chicago boosters, employing a familiar phrase President Obama has used on the campaign trail.

"It really is a campaign, not even of sorts, it really is," mega TV mogul Winfrey told ABC News. "But I don't think that people are as mean and ugly."

Mrs. Obama expressed her gratitude to Winfrey for being part of the endeavor on behalf of Chicago. But that mission is not without controversy.

Chicago's bid is drawing protests at home, with some saying the games will bankrupt the city's economy, rather than helping it grow. Tom Tresser, who runs "No Games Chicago," is among those.

"It's the wrong project for the wrong city at the wrong time," he said. "We think the bills are going to go through the roof and the taxpayers will be soaked."

Experts say the economic impact is positive when the games are held, but the large investments that have to go into infrastructure can add up.

"If we're trying to sell the games on the economic boost it provides the economy, I think that it is a straw," said Robert Baade, a professor of economics at Lake Forest College in Chicago and president of the International Association of Sports Economists. "But if we sell the games on what it might do for a city psychologically, that is a much more compelling argument."

In Washington, critics are panning Obama's decision to fly to Copenhagen Friday for a brief trip to persuade the judges that Chicago should be the next site.

"Now the president is going to go to Copenhagen when we've got serious issues here at home that need to be debated," House Minority Leader John Boehner told reporters Wednesday. "I think it's a great idea to promote Chicago, but he's the president of the United States, not the mayor of Chicago."

But White House officials say the trip isn't taking away from the president's responsibilities.

"In fact, I think it's consistent with his philosophy of diplomacy, of reaching out, of inviting over 200 countries to come to our shores, in the heart of country, the Midwest, in Chicago," Jarrett said. "That's completely consistent with President Obama's agenda, making America inclusive and open and so the short time he'll be here, we believe is time well spent."

The president will be on the ground for merely three hours, long enough to headline the final presentation and make the final pitch to undecided IOC members, like Ung Chang, who has been an IOC member for the last 13 years.

When asked what can convince him of his vote, Chang replied, "Last presentation, that's important."