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Obama To Lend Star Power To Chicago Olympic Bid

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Obama To Lend Star Power To Chicago Olympic Bid

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Obama To Lend Star Power To Chicago Olympic Bid

Obama To Lend Star Power To Chicago Olympic Bid

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President Obama watches as U.S. Olympian Tim Morehouse (right) demonstrates fencing on the White House lawn on Sept. 16. Obama said he'll go to Copenhagen to make a personal pitch to the International Olympic Committee to hold the Olympics in Chicago in 2016. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama watches as U.S. Olympian Tim Morehouse (right) demonstrates fencing on the White House lawn on Sept. 16. Obama said he'll go to Copenhagen to make a personal pitch to the International Olympic Committee to hold the Olympics in Chicago in 2016.

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

In a flash of Olympic competition, President Obama will make a 4,000-mile dash to Copenhagen this week. He'll make a personal pitch to the International Olympic Committee to award the 2016 Summer Games to Chicago.

"I've called Chicago home for nearly 25 years," Obama said earlier this month during an Olympic event at the White House. "It's a city of broad shoulders and big hearts and bold dreams. A city of legendary sports figures, legendary sports venues and legendary sports fans."

The president wasn't originally planning to make that case to the IOC in person. He thought he'd be too busy with the health care debate, and joked that he was sending a "more compelling" speaker in his place: first lady Michelle Obama, a Chicago native.

But over the weekend, Obama decided to join his wife in anchoring the hometown team.

"Part of the Olympic spirit is you fight until you cross the finish line," said senior adviser and fellow Chicagoan Valerie Jarrett. "In this home stretch, the president determined it would be important for him to be right there and encourage the IOC firsthand to come to our shores."

Other World Leaders Make Pitches

Chicago already had a formidable sales team lined up for Copenhagen, with two Cabinet secretaries, more than a dozen Olympic athletes and Oprah Winfrey. But having the president himself on hand could make a big difference.

"Being in person and being able to do it face to face with people is obviously going to be a great help," said Patrick Sandusky, a spokesman for the bid committee, Chicago 2016. "Ours is the city that should get the right to host the games. But it's going to be a very close vote."

Obama will be the first American president to go before the IOC to lobby for the games. Other world leaders have shown that a big name can carry a lot of weight.

"Tony Blair did it in the bid for 2012 for London. He showed up in 2005 when they voted, which was a surprise. And the bid went to London when Paris was really thought to be the favorite," recalled Bill Mallon, past president of the International Society of Olympic Historians.

Mallon also credits Vladimir Putin's personal appearance with helping to secure the 2014 Winter Games for the long-shot Russian city of Sochi.

Obama won't be the only head of state in Copenhagen. The king and queen of Spain will be there, lobbying for Madrid. And Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will make the case for Rio de Janeiro, arguing that it's about time South America got to host its first Olympic games. Rio had been considered the front-runner.

'A Bit Of A Gamble'

Historian Mallon thinks Obama's last-minute appearance moves Chicago into the lead. But he says there's no guarantee.

"It is a bit of a gamble because he does not want to go and be embarrassed and not have us win," Mallon said.

That's especially true at a time when the president's plate is already overflowing — not only with health care, but also the war in Afghanistan and the opening of direct talks this week with Iran.

Indeed, there's been speculation that Obama must have received assurances that if he made the high-profile trip, Chicago would get the games. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs denied that the U.S. has received any such "intelligence."

Adviser Jarrett adds that Obama doesn't seek any guarantees.

"The president has never been afraid of risk," Jarrett says. "If he looked at handicaps, he would never have run for president. He just looks at what he thinks would be good for our country and also good for Chicago, his hometown."

Obama's Olympic dash starts Thursday night. He'll be back in Washington by Friday evening, when the IOC is set to announce its decision.

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