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.

October 02, 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.

Chicago was hoping to sell the city with the most modest bid of all the other finalists. Its bid estimate was $4.8 billion, compared with Tokyo at $5.9 billion, Madrid at $6.1 billion and Rio de Janeiro at a whopping $13.9 billion.

Chicago planned the main venues on its own park land. Most of the structures, including the Olympic Stadium, would be temporary.

Olympic backers claimed corporate donations, television rights, and ticket sales would more than cover the costs. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley promised no new taxes.

"It's an economic boom," Daley said. "It creates jobs, it creates focus, it creates marketing building up to it."

So how did Chicago, with seemingly so much momentum, ultimately earn the least number of votes?

Some IOC members said they too were surprised at the ultimate lack of enthusiam for the Windy City, but that the decision came down to sharing the games with a whole new part of the world. Members said the vote wasn't against Obama.

"The problem was not that Chicago did something wrong. I think the problem was that there were four great cities," Claudia Bokel, an IOC member from Germany, told ABC News. "I do think the first time in South America seemed to be quite charming to a lot of people."

Brazil's Da Silva emphasized that point in his final presentation.

"For the others, it will be just one more Games," he told voters earlier today. "For South America, it will be a magical moment. ... And it will also be a chance to send a powerful message to the whole world: the Olympic Games belong to all peoples, to all continents to all mankind."

Many IOC members praised Chicago's effort, particularly the first lady's personal pitch, which focused on her father's struggle with multiple sclerosis and his passion for sports in wider the context of the Paralymic Games.

"Michelle Obama was very, very, very tough. She's the woman of the day," said French IOC member Guy Drut.

Many IOC members likely knew who they were voting for long before this morning's final showdown.

Chris Rudge, CEO and secretary general of Canadian Olympic Committee, said the voting comes down to more than the presentation -- It's also about politics and personal relationships.

"This is a world that is driven by 115 very unique and special people who look at the world as the IOC members," he said. "And then there's world royalty. And then there's heads of state. And then there's major corporate leaders. And then there's the rest of you riff raff. And so they're accountable only to themselves."

"There are lot of quid pro-quo exchange favors there and these decisions can become very, very personal," he added. "The merit of the bid is important, but the world politics is important."

Rudge remarked that if he were American, he would find the final tally "insulting." But while the vote was "shocking" for U.S. IOC member Anita De Frantz, she disagreed.

"I think the best explanation is that a number of members wanted to go to a different part of the world," De Frantz said. "Everyone wanted to have their picture with both of them [the Obamas]. Everyone wanted to be near him so no, no, no: He won. Chicago didn't."

The Obamas Personal Pitch

The Obamas tried to convince the world to bring the 2016 Olympic Games to Chicago with energetic, personal and passionate speeches.

"I've come here today to urge you to choose Chicago for the same reasons I chose Chicago nearly 25 years ago -- the reasons I fell in love with the city I still call home," the president told members of the IOC.

Team Chicago highlighted such reasoning in a colorful multimedia presentation -- complete with celebrities, business executives, children and the slogan "Together We Can."

Dressed in Olympic gold, Michelle Obama made an intensely personal pitch, speaking passionately about the Paralympic Games and her father's battle with multiple sclerosis.

"When I think of what these Games can mean to people all over the world, I think about people like my dad," the first lady said, "people who face seemingly insurmountable challenges but never let go. They work a little harder but they never give up," Obama told voters.

After her speech, the first lady passed the baton to her husband, who talked about his own historic election and the United States' desire to inspire.

"At the beginning of this new century, the nation that has been shaped by people from around the world wants a chance to inspire it once more; to ignite the spirit of possibility at the heart of the Olympic and Paralympic movement in a new generation; to offer a stage worthy of the extraordinary talent and dynamism offered by nations joined together -- to host Games that unite us in noble competition and shared celebration of our limitless potential as a people," the president said.

He promised that his hometown and country would fully live up to expectations if they are chosen.

"If we walk this path together, then I promise you this: The city of Chicago and the United States of America will make the world proud," he ended.

The president met with the queen of Denmark and the prime minister before jetting back to Washington.

Before today's presentations, most of the campaigning in Copenhagen happened behind the scenes. Michelle Obama met one-on-one with the more than 100 members of the IOC.

The first lady, the president and Vice President Joe Biden had all been working the phones this week pushing Chicago's bid.

Michelle Obama said Thursday that she and the president saw the race in Copenhagen much like the Iowa caucuses.

"Barack and I have looked at this, this is like a campaign. Just like Iowa," she said. "You got to -- and the international community may not understand that, but Iowa is like a caucus, and you can't take any vote for granted. Nobody makes the decision until they're sitting there."

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett agreed.

"It's just like the Iowa caucuses, in that it's a very one-on-one contact," she said. "It's about building trust and building a relationship and also it's about recognizing that you can't take a vote for granted."

ABC News' Sunlen Miller, David Wright, Steven Portnoy and Chris Bury contributed to this report.

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