- The Washington Times - Friday, October 2, 2009

UPDATED:

Chicago’s dreams of Olympic glory ended Friday afternoon, as Rio De Janeiro claimed the rights to host the 2016 Summer Games, dealing a blow to President Obama and marking the first time the international athletic competition will be held in South America.

Despite an impassioned plea from President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, the International Olympic Committee gave Chicago the fewest votes in the first round of voting during its session in Copenhagen, stunning supporters who believed the president’s adopted hometown was one of the favorites to win.

Rio De Janeiro edged out Madrid in the final round of voting to win the rights to host the games. Tokyo placed third and Chicago last.

Mr. Obama, still aboard Air Force One while returning from Copenhagen, is “disappointed” but not sorry he took his trip, press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

Mr. Gibbs earlier joked with reporters about whether the president would speak with them after the vote was announced.

“Depends on what that decision is,” he said.

The news of Chicago’s early ouster was not good for Mr. Obama, political analysts said.

“I think this is instructive about how seriously the international community takes President Obama,” said John Feehery, a former aide to Republican Dennis Hastert. “It seems they don’t take him very seriously.”

Mr. Feehery, a Chicago native, said the president’s decision to “desperately swoop to dramatically save the Olympic bid backfired.”

The president’s senior political adviser, David Axelrod, also described the situation as “disappointing” but said he does not consider it a repudiation of the president or the first lady.

Mr. Obama “did the best he could,” Mr. Axelrod told CNN shortly after the vote.

“The president made a very strong appeal,” he said. “It wasn’t strong enough to overcome some of the internal currents there, but it was worth the effort.”

Howard Wolfson said he believes the public will not hold the president responsible for the vote, as they may have if he had chosen not to attend.

Mr. Wolfson, an adviser to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, noted that when the mayor made a failed pitch for New York earlier this decade, voters there appreciated the effort.

“I think it was right for President Obama to go and make the pitch,” he said. “They clearly went in another direction. But the president needs to be able to go and make a strong case for the country.”

IOC members were apparently moved by the pitch from Rio De Janeiro representatives, who urged the committee to award the games to a South American city for the first time. At one point, bid representatives displayed a map showing where all of the Olympics have been held, pointing to numerous times it’s been held in Europe and the United States.

The last U.S.-based Olympics was the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. The elimination of Chicago guarantees that the United States will go at least 14 years without hosting an Olympic Games, the longest drought since the 20-year gap between the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley and the 1980 Games in Lake Placid. The U.S. has not hosted a Summer Games since 1996 in Atlanta.

Chicago spent nearly $50 million in an effort to land the Olympics, and the city’s early exit is especially stinging given New York’s early departure from consideration for the 2012 Summer Games, which were awarded to London. It is also another dose of bad news for the United States Olympic Committee, which angered the IOC in August after announcing plans for its own cable network without full approval from the committee. The USOC has since postponed those plans. The USOC has also dealt with several changes in leadership, with six chief executive officers in the last nine years.

Business analysts suggested a non-U.S. games could depress the value of sponsorships and broadcast rights for the games. But keeping the games in the same time zone as tens of millions of television viewers in the United States will still allow events to be shown in prime time on the East Coast, thus boosting revenue from ad sales.

“It’s like being in America from a TV rights standpoint, plus you get to enter a whole new market,” said J.C. Bradbury, an associate professor at Kennesaw State University who has specialized in the economics of sports.

NBC holds the rights to televise the Olympics through 2012, and competition for the rights beyond that are expected to be very competitive.

Mr. Obama invested much more than initially planned in the success or failure of his hometown’s Olympic gamble. Last month, he told reporters he would be unable to break away from his bid for health care reform to make an in-person appeal to the International Olympic committee.

But Thursday night, he flew seven hours to be able to talk directly to those who would be casting ballots.

Appearing before them, Mr. Obama delivered a soliloquy on the magic of Chicago as the “most American of American cities … but one where citizens from more than 130 nations inhabit a rich tapestry of distinctive neighborhoods.”

“No one expects the Games to solve all our collective challenges,” Mr. Obama said. “But what we do believe — what each and every one of you believe and what all of the Chicago delegation believes — is that in a world where we’ve all too often witnessed the darker aspects of our humanity, peaceful competition between nations represents what’s best about our humanity.”

IOC members heard pitches from all of the bidding cities Thursday, including a speech from former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, who made a plea in support of Madrid’s bid. Mr. Samaranch, 89, asked the IOC to award the games to his home country because he is “very near the end on my time.”

Mr. Obama spoke after his wife offered her own appeal for the city where she was raised. Her’s was a personal pitch.

“Sports were a gift I shared with my dad — especially the Olympic Games,” she said. “Some of my best memories are sitting on my dad’s lap, cheering on Olga and Nadia, Carl Lewis, and others for their brilliance and perfection. Like so many young people, I was inspired. I found myself dreaming that maybe, just maybe, if I worked hard enough, I, too, could achieve something great.”

Mrs. Obama said she never dreamed the Olympic flame would light up lives in her neighborhood.

“But today, I can dream, and I am dreaming of an Olympic and Paralympic Games in Chicago that will light up lives in neighborhoods all across America and all across the world; that will expose all our neighborhoods to new sports and new role models; that will show every child that regardless of wealth, or gender, or race, or physical ability, there is a sport and a place for them, too,” she said. “That’s why I’m here today. I’m asking you to choose Chicago. I’m asking you to choose America.”

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