President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama said they are “fired up” at the possibility of Chicago hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics, reiterating their support Wednesday before more than 100 schoolchildren on the South Lawn of the White House.
With several Olympic medalists in attendance, including Jackie Joyner-Kersee and D.C. resident Jair Lynch, the Obamas spoke of their love for Chicago, where they lived before moving into the White House, and the opportunity for the games to create a lasting legacy.
“Chicago is ready,” Obama said. “The American people are ready. We want the games.”
Chicago is bidding against Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo and Madrid, and the International Olympic Committee will make its final decision Oct. 2 in Copenhagen. The president confirmed he would not attend the meeting, citing his current focus on health care legislation. The president will send the first lady, whom he called a “more compelling superstar to represent the U.S.”
Michelle Obama will attend the IOC meeting with Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor in charge of the White House Office of Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport. The office, created in June, was formed to provide assistance to the Chicago bid and offer help creating a long-term impact if the city wins.
“The Olympics isn’t just about what happens in one city every two or four years,” Michelle Obama said. “It’s not just about those two weeks when we watch the greatest athletes in the world push themselves to new heights of achievement. It’s also about how a nation is transformed leading up to the games. And it’s also about the legacy that lasts in those cities long after the closing ceremonies are over.”
Wednesday’s event at the White House featured demonstrations on judo, fencing and gymnastics. It was preceded by a visit by the first lady earlier in the day to Sousa Middle School in the District and Lake Ridge Middle School in Woodbridge, Va., where she spoke to students about the importance of healthy living and youth sports.
Supporters of the Chicago Olympic bid said Michelle Obama could be a forceful advocate for the city, especially given her popularity in Europe. But during a U.S. Olympic Committee media summit in Chicago last week, reporters peppered Chicago 2016 officials with questions about the president’s involvement, pointing out that the heads of state of every other bidding nation committed to attending the final IOC session.
“I don’t think anyone has any question about his commitment,” Chicago 2016 bid chairman Patrick Ryan said.
Those who have been involved in the bid process said Obama’s presence could help; IOC members have been known to be swayed at the last minute.
“The IOC says it doesn’t guarantee a win, and they’ve been known to reach out to heads of state and tell them that directly,” said John Rowady, president of rEvolution, a Chicago sports marketing agency that has supported the 2016 bid. “But I think the stats show that if you have a head of state that carries a lot of positive energy, it can help.”
Rowady said the presence of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair helped sway voters to support London’s bid for the 2012 games.
“They were behind, and then he’s there and brings a ton of kids, and basically they leave ahead and they win,” Rowady said.
There have been few clues as to how the IOC is leaning, but the organization had been critical of Chicago’s inability to secure a full financial guarantee to cover any cost overruns.
All other bidding cities received those guarantees from their federal governments, but the U.S. government has a policy of not backing the financing of Olympic bids. Chicago last week received approval by its City Council for a full financial guarantee at the local level.