Obamas push Chicago one last time
COPENHAGEN -- Chicago, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Madrid made final pitches to the International Olympic Committee to be selected later Friday as host of the 2016 Olympics, with President Barack Obama and Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva pitting their star power against each other in emotional pushes for their cities.
Rio and Chicago's presentations were particularly impassioned. Obama and his wife Michelle both talked about their childhood, while Rio urged the IOC's members to be bold by taking the Games to South America for the first time.
Tokyo presented itself as the best city for the athletes, safe and environmentally pioneering. Former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch made an unusual appeal for Madrid, reminding the IOC members as he asked for their vote that, at age 89, "I am very near the end of my time."
The 103 members will start voting electronically in a secret ballot at 11:10 a.m. ET. The vote will take up to 30 minutes. Cities will be eliminated one-by-one until one secures a majority.
The cities' final presentations represented the finishing line after years of hard work, lobbying, planning and hopes. They had 45 minutes and follow-up questions to sway undecided IOC members, of which there were many after a long, close and at times acrimonious race.
Chicago presented first, with videos and speeches -- capped by Obama's plea. Obama used his stature as a statesman and his own life story for impact, recounting how he was moved around as a child and "never really had roots" but in Chicago, "I finally found a home."
Obama held out the enticing prospect of a Chicago Games helping to reconnect the United States with the world after the presidency of George W. Bush, pledging that the "full force of the White House" would be applied so "visitors from all around the world feel welcome and will come away with a sense of the incredible diversity of the American people."
"Over the last several years, sometimes that fundamental truth about the United States has been lost," Obama said. "One of the legacies, I think, of this Olympic Games in Chicago would be a restoration of that understanding of what the United States is all about and the United States' recognition of how we are linked to the world."
Rio played up the wow factor of its fabulous scenery, with computer-generated bird's eye images of how venues would be spread across the city, with sailing in the shadow of Sugar Loaf mountain and volleyball on Copacabana beach. The governor of the central bank said Brazil's economic vibrancy should reassure IOC members, and the head of Rio state played down concerns over security.
But Rio's hardest sell was that the IOC could ignore South America no longer.
"It is a time to address this imbalance," Silva said. "It is time to light the Olympic cauldron in a tropical country."
Rio bid president Carlos Nuzman, who is also an IOC member, added: "When you push the button today, you have the chance to inspire a new continent, make Olympic history."
Speaking for Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama pledged that the city "will show the world how a major metropolis can flourish without detriment to the environment."
Madrid portrayed itself as a low-risk option, saying that 77 percent of the needed infrastructure for the Games was already in place.
"This is a sure candidacy," Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said.
An uncomfortable moment for Chicago came when an IOC member from Pakistan, Syed Shahid Ali, noted that going through U.S. customs can be harrowing for foreigners.
Obama responded that he wanted a Chicago Games to offer "a reminder that America at its best is open to the world."
His wife tugged at IOC members' heart strings by discussing her late father, who had multiple sclerosis. She recounted sitting on his lap, watching Olympians such as Carl Lewis and Nadia Comaneci compete, and how her father "taught me how to throw a ball and a mean right hook."
"My dad would have been so proud to witness these Games in Chicago," she said.
The high drama will come when IOC president Jacques Rogge announces the name of the winner about an hour after the last votes are cast. He will break open a sealed envelope and declare which city has been awarded the Games of the 31st Olympiad.
The winner gets huge prestige and billions of dollars in potential economic benefits, the losers just painful thoughts of what might have been.
Rogge doesn't vote and, as long as their cities haven't been eliminated, neither will members from Brazil, the United States, Spain and Japan. Three other members did not attend the session.
That left 95 voters in the first round, with more in subsequent rounds. In the event of a two-city tie in the early rounds, a runoff is held between the cities. If there is a tie in the final round, Rogge can vote or ask the IOC executive board to break the deadlock.
Ahead of the vote, only Tokyo seemed to have fallen out of the running. But otherwise, it was still too close to call between the beaches and bossa nova of Rio, the bustle and Lake Michigan waterfront of Chicago or the European elegance of Madrid.
Everyone had reason to be hopeful, none reason to be sure.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press