UPDATE 3-Olympics-Obama to fly to Copenhagen to support Chicago

Mon Sep 28, 2009 4:29pm EDT

* U.S. President Obama to fly to Denmark for IOC vote

* Trip boosts Chicago's chances of winning 2016 Games

(Adds quotes from Michelle Obama, spokesman)

By Paul Radford

COPENHAGEN, Sept 28 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will fly to Copenhagen on Friday to support Chicago's bid to stage the 2016 Summer Olympics, adding formidable weight to U.S. efforts in a contest that is seen as too close to call.

A personal appearance by Obama, the first by a sitting U.S. president at an Olympic session, could potentially play a crucial role in swaying votes by International Olympic Committee (IOC) members who must choose between Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.

Each of the cities will make a presentation on Friday in the Danish capital to the IOC membership who will then cast their votes the same day. The IOC has 115 members.

The contest has been seen by Olympic observers as one of the closest ever with no clear front runner and all four bids capable of succeeding.

Obama's decision to attend the vote, only days after telling IOC chief Jacques Rogge he would not be able to attend due to his healthcare reform plans, greatly improves Chicago's chances of becoming the first American city to host the Summer Games since Atlanta in 1996.

Obama has spent much of his political life in Chicago and has a home close to some of the planned Olympic venues in the heart of the city.

"I am very confident in the bid that the United States has submitted," First Lady Michelle Obama, who is traveling separately as part of the Chicago delegation, told reporters. "I think that we have a good chance."

The U.S. president's presence in Copenhagen had long been a point of speculation, with Japanese Olympic officials fearing the 'Obama factor' and Brazilian officials saying his absence from the session would boost the other cities' chances.

Victory brings not only the Summer Games but enormous prestige, a public relations boost and potential economic and development benefits.

DOUBLE ACT

Obama will fly in early on the day of the vote and go straight from Copenhagen airport in a 24-car convoy to the Bella Convention Center where he will make an entry with his wife into the IOC session.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama had decided the timing of the trip would not hurt his efforts to push for healthcare reform, his top domestic policy goal.

"The president believes health care is in better shape. I believe he felt strongly and personally that he should go and make the case for the United States," Gibbs said.

The president and first lady would both make presentations to the session, the White House said, before the president returns home Friday afternoon.

"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," said Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley in a statement.

"Who better to share with members of the International Olympic Committee the commitment and enthusiasm Chicago has for the Olympic and Paralympic Movement than the President and First Lady?"

The other three candidates will also be bringing their most senior officials. Brazilian president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva will be part of the Rio team, King Juan Carlos of Spain will back Madrid's bid and newly elected Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama will support Tokyo.

Heads of state have in recent years played a greater role in the bidding process, with then British Prime Minister Tony Blair successfully lobbying for London to win the 2012 Games in 2005 and Russian President Vladimir Putin helping the Black Sea resort of Sochi to clinch the 2014 Winter Olympics vote in 2007. (Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann in Copenhagen and Matt Spetalnick and Jeff Mason in Washington; Editing by Clare Fallon; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)

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