Rio de Janeiro to Host Olympics 2016, Chicago Loses Despite Obama Pitch

Despite a personal pitch from the Obamas, Chicago loses 2016 in the first round.

ByABC News
October 2, 2009, 6:53 AM

Oct. 2, 2009— -- The International Olympic Committee picked Rio de Janeiro as the host city for the 2016 Olympic Games, after booting out a bid by Chicago in the first round of voting despite personal appeals from the U.S. president and first lady.

With this win, Brazil will become the first South American city to host the Olympic Games.

In what came as a shock to many and disappointment to the White House, Chicago got the least amount of votes and was eliminated in the first round. Tokyo was cut in the second round.

White House officials said President Obama, who made a whirlwind trip to Copenhagen, Denmark to join his wife in promoting Chicago, was "disappointed" but felt that his adopted hometown was the strongest and best choice.

"One of the things that I think is most valuable about sports is that you can play a great game and still not win," the president told reporters after his return from the nine-hour long plane ride from Denmark. "And so although I wish that we had come back with better news from Copenhagen, I could not be prouder of my hometown of Chicago, the volunteers who were involved, Mayor Daley, the delegation and the American people for the extraordinary bid that we put forward."

Obama said he spoke to Brazilian President Lula da Silva to congratulate him on the win.

"I think this is a truly historic event," he said. "And as neighbors in the Americas, as friends to the Brazilian people, we welcome this extraordinary sign of progress and the fact that the 2016 Games will be in the Americas."

At Chicago's Daley Plaza, there was an audible gasp from the crowd when the news was announced. Even people in the press room in Copenhagen were visibly surprised.

Obama said he was proud of the U.S. delegation and their work.

"I have no doubt that it was the strongest bid possible, and I'm proud that I was able to come in and help make that case in person," the president said. "I believe it's always a worthwhile endeavor to promote and boost the United States of America and invite the world to come see what we're all about."

Political Ramifications for Obama?

White House officials say the president thought the short trip was worth it, even if Chicago did not win.

"The president would've been criticized if he didn't go. There were some who criticized him for going. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter," White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod told ABC News. "As far as we're concerned it was the right thing to do and now we move on to other things."

Critics were quick to seize on the president's failed attempt. Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh called today the "worst day of his presidency."

"Obama demeaned the office of the presidency, going on this sales pitch," Limbaugh said on his radio show.

Earlier this week, some GOP lawmakers had criticized Obama for jetting off to Copenhagen when he has a full plate of big agenda items like health care, Afghanistan and Iran.

"Listen, I think it's a great idea to promote Chicago, but he's the president of the United States, not the mayor of Chicago," House Minority Leader John Boehner said Thursday. "And the problems we have here at home affect all Americans, and that's where his attention ought to be."

But some said Obama made the right decision in promoting the United States on the international front.

Republican strategist Alex Conant said despite the loss, Obama's personal pitch was a good thing.

"It's the president's job to advocate on behalf of the U.S. and, frankly, a lot of people think he should be doing more advocating on our behalf," Conant said. "His tone in Copenhagen was very different than his tone in New York [at the United Nations] last week, in terms of going out and unapologetically arguing on behalf of the United States.

"I think a lot of people are disappointed with the result, and rubbing salt in wounds is rather unproductive," he said.

The White House had no qualms with Obama's overnight flight and quick stop on the ground to make that 11th-hour pitch. They had determined that his presence today in Copenhagen could tip the scales in Chicago's favor, which didn't end up being the case.

Axelrod said the only thing the president gave up was some sleep, and he thought the quick trip was well worth the time.

"You can't have it both ways. On one hand, there are people who are complaining that he's done, doing too much and has gotten too much done, and there are others who complain that he hasn't gotten everything done," Axelrod said. "Again, I guess we don't care that much about all the chatter in Washington. We care about putting one foot in front of the other, getting done what needs to be done."

The quick trip wasn't all devoid of other major issues.

On Air Force One, Obama met with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top general in Afghanistan, to talk about the strategy for the region.