Olympic event held at White House


WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama staged a homecoming-style Olympic rally at the White House Wednesday, saying the whole country is rooting for his hometown of Chicago in its efforts to host the 2016 Summer Games.

"Chicago is ready. The American people are ready. We want these games," he said to applause from the Olympians, Paralympians, local schoolchildren, politicians and other supporters in attendance.

"If you choose Chicago, I promise you this -- Chicago will make America proud, and America will make the world proud," Obama added.

The International Olympic Committee will choose a host city during an Oct. 2 meeting in Copenhagen. Obama will not attend the meetings, instead sending first lady Michelle Obama to lead the U.S. delegation.

Chicago is in a tough competition with Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo. In recent years, national leaders have traveled to the IOC meetings to help seal the deal -- such as Tony Blair for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and Vladimir Putin for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

"I would make the case in Copenhagen personally," Obama said, noting he's busy seeking a health care overhaul. "But the good news is I'm sending a more compelling superstar to represent the city and country we love, and that is our first lady, Michelle Obama."

She didn't return the kudos, describing the president's dabbling in some of the Olympic sports before the event.

"You should have seen the president in there fencing," she said to laughter, as Obama stuck out his arm in a mock fencing move. "It was pathetic. But he passed the baton really well."

The president said that while he loves Washington, Chicago has been his home for nearly 25 years. He called it a "city of broad shoulders and big hearts and bold dreams, a city of legendary sports figures, legendary sports venues, and legendary sports fans."

After his remarks, the president shed his suit jacket and watched as athletes demonstrated judo, fencing and gymnastics.

"Oh! That's what I'm talking about!" he exclaimed after a skillful judo move. "Nice, nice, nice," he said at another point.

Over at the fencing demonstration, he picked up a foam sword and playfully demonstrated the skill that his wife had joked about.

Joining Obama for the event were Chicago Mayor Richard Daley as well as Olympic greats such as Mike Conley, a gold medalist in the triple jump who grew up near Washington Park, where the main Olympic stadium would be; Dominique Dawes, a three-time Olympian in gymnastics and member of the "Magnificent Seven," the only U.S. women's team to win gold in gymnastics; 2008 Olympic gold medalist wrestler Henry Cejudo; and track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee, a three-time gold medalist who grew up in East St. Louis, Ill.

In a brief interview, Joyner-Kersee, a supporter of Chicago's bid from the start, said the athletes did not try to persuade Obama to make the trip to Copenhagen.

"I think it is so important to respect the president, and what he's doing right now," citing Obama's commitment to health care reform. "It's not only respect to him but also to this country."

After meeting with the Illinois congressional delegation earlier in the day, Daley told reporters that given all the problems the nation faces, it's understandable if Obama doesn't go to Denmark for the IOC meeting.

"I think if there is ever a possibility of coming he would," the mayor said, adding that the president has already been helpful by talking to various heads of state about the Chicago bid. Daley said he considers Chicago's chances for winning the bid to be even with the three remaining rivals.

He also highlighted the reception that Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., has planned Thursday evening with African ambassadors.

"These 17 African nations are really the swing votes" with the IOC, Daley said.