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In a flash of Olympic competition, President Obama will dash to Copenhagen this week. He'll make a personal pitch to the International Olympic Committee to award the 2016 Summer Games to Chicago. The IOC is set to make its decision on Friday and Chicago is in a tight race with Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo and Madrid.
NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama will tell the IOC there's no better city to host the Summer Games than his adopted hometown, a point he made earlier this month during an Olympic event on the South Lawn of the White House.
President BARACK OBAMA: I've called Chicago home for nearly 25 years. 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.
HORSLEY: When the president gave that speech less than two weeks ago, he said he would be unable to attend the IOC's Copenhagen meeting in person because he's too busy with the health care debate. He joked that he was sending a more compelling speaker in his place, first lady Michelle Obama, a Chicago native. Since then, though, the administration has concluded the health care debate can get along without the president for 24 hours or so. Senior adviser and fellow Chicagoan Valerie Jarrett says Mr. Obama decided over the weekend to join his wife in anchoring the hometown team.
Ms. VALERIE JARRETT (Senior Adviser): Part of the Olympic spirit is you fight until you cross the finish line and in this home stretch, the president determined that it would be important for him to be right there and encourage the IOC firsthand to come to our shores.
HORSLEY: 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 bid committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky says having the president himself on hand could make a big difference.
Mr. PATRICK SANDUSKY (Spokesman, Chicago 2016 Bid Committee): Being in person and being able to do it face to face with people is obviously something that will be a great help. Ours is the city that should get the right to host the games, but it's going to be a very close vote.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama will be the first American president to go before the IOC and campaign for the games. Olympic historian Bill Mallon says other world leaders have shown a big name can carry a lot of weight.
Mr. BILL MALLON (Olympic Historian): 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.
HORSLEY: Mallon also credits Vladimir Putin's personal appearance with helping the long-shot Russian city of Sochi win the 2014 Winter Olympics. Mr. Obama won't be the only president in Copenhagen, though. Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will make the case for Rio de Janeiro, arguing it's about time South America got to host its first Olympic games. Rio had been considered the front-runner. Historian Mallon thinks Mr. Obama's last minute appearance moves Chicago into the lead, but, he says, there's no guarantee.
Mr. MALLON: It is a bit of a gamble because he does not want to be embarrassed and go and not have us win.
HORSLEY: Especially at a time when the president's plate is already overflowing — not only with health care, but the war in Afghanistan and the opening this week of direct talks with Iran. Indeed, there's been speculation that Mr. Obama must have received assurances that if he made the high-profile trip to Copenhagen, Chicago would be awarded the games. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs denies the U.S. has received any such intelligence. And adviser Jarrett adds Mr. Obama is not afraid of a little fair competition.
Ms. JARRETT: The president has never been afraid of risk. We don't look at handicaps. If he was looking 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.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama's Olympic dash starts Thursday night. He'll be back in Washington on Friday when the IOC is set to announce its decision.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.
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