- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 22, 2009

As Michelle Obama prepares to make a highly personal appeal in Denmark on behalf of Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, the White House is leaving open the possibility that President Barack Obama will make a last minute decision to join her.

Though the president has said the health care debate keeps him from committing to attend the International Olympic Committee’s Oct. 2 meeting in Copenhagen, an administration official said an advance team traveled there Monday to make preparations should the president’s schedule open up.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because a decision on the president’s travel plans has not been made.

An advance team always travels ahead of the president to assess security and make arrangements for accommodations, even for trips the president doesn’t end up taking.

Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president, said a trip to Copenhagen currently is not on the president’s schedule. Chicago backers have urged the president to attend the meeting, but Jarrett said the bid committee is thrilled to have the first lady - a Chicago native with sky-high popularity around the world - lead the city’s 300-member delegation.

“Who better than Michelle Obama to represent our country right now?” Jarrett said.

Jarrett, a former vice chair of the Chicago 2016 bid committee and head of the White House Office on Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport, also will travel to Copenhagen. She met with the first lady and her staff last week to develop a strategy for the home stretch.

Jarrett said Michelle Obama’s presentation to the IOC will be “very personal” and will draw on her experiences growing up on the city’s South Side and later raising a family in a home that is within walking distance of some of the proposed Olympic venues.

During an Olympics rally at the White House last week, the first lady said she feels “deeply honored” to be able to make the case for her hometown in Copenhagen.

“I know that Barack and I would feel such tremendous pride to see the Olympic torch burning brightly in the city that we love so much,” she said.

Chicago faces tough competition from Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo. Heads of state representing Rio and Madrid are expected to attend the Copenhagen meeting.

That’s where the cities, which have gone through months of preparations, presentations and visits by IOC members, will get one last chance to make their case. Each city has 45 minutes to present, followed by 15 minutes of questions. In a random drawing, Chicago was selected to go first.

A majority (51 percent) of the secret ballot vote is required to win the bid. IOC President Jacques Rogge has said this year’s vote is too close to call, and the winner could be decided by a few votes.

With some Olympics-watchers predicting a tight race between Chicago and Rio, there’s added pressure for the president to help his adopted hometown cross the finish line.

Even if he doesn’t make the trip to Copenhagen, the White House says the president has been actively engaged in helping Chicago. He has reached out to Rogge, sent letters to some of the IOC voting members and made targeted phone calls to key members. That outreach will continue as the October meeting approaches.

During last week’s Olympics rally, the president said a winning bid would not only be a success for Chicago but the whole country.

“Chicago will make America proud,” he said. “And America will make the world proud.”

AP writers Nancy Armour in Chicago and Steve Wilson in London contributed to this report.

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