Michelle Obama to help Chicago's Olympic bid

WASHINGTON (AP) - September 11, 2009 The White House announced Friday that first lady Michelle Obama will travel to Copenhagen to make the case for Chicago ahead of the Oct. 2 vote by the International Olympic Committee. President Barack Obama told IOC president Jacques Rogge that the health care debate will keep him in Washington but that he will continue to work on behalf of his adopted hometown of Chicago from afar.

"There is no greater supporter of Chicago and its bid to host the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games than President Obama and his support is recognized worldwide," said Patrick Ryan, chairman of Chicago 2016.

Chicago and U.S. Olympic Committee members have openly lobbied for Obama to join them in Copenhagen, believing his presence could help bring the Summer Games back to the United States for the first time since 1996. Chicago is in a tight contest with Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo, and the presence of world leaders has been instrumental in the most recent votes.

Tony Blair helped London land the 2012 Games when he met IOC members in Singapore in 2005, and Vladimir Putin traveled to Guatemala City in 2007 to push Sochi's winning bid for the 2014 Winter Games. Brazil's president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has already said he'll be in Copenhagen, as will King Juan Carlos of Spain.

Japan has invited incoming Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Crown Prince Naruhito to attend.

But Rogge said Thursday that Chicago's chances shouldn't hinge on whether Obama makes a personal appearance in Denmark. Obama, an ardent supporter of Chicago's bid, has videotaped four messages for IOC members in recent months.

"If they want to come, this is an honor for the IOC," Rogge said. "We'll feel honored by their presence. It would be absolutely legitimate if they go to defend the bid of their country. We are not asking for heads of state to come there."

Besides, Michelle Obama brings some pretty good star power and international popularity of her own to the effort. She was born and raised on Chicago's South Side, not far from where the Olympic stadium would be, and she and the president will host Olympic athletes at the White House next week.

The athletes will visit local schools first, then join the Obamas and Chicago 2016 leaders at the White House in the afternoon.

"It is with great pride that I will go to Copenhagen to make the case for the United States to host the 2016 Olympics," she said in a statement. "There is no doubt in my mind that Chicago would offer the world a fantastic setting for these historic games and I hope that the Olympic torch will have the chance to burn brightly in my hometown."

As first lady, Mrs. Obama has highlighted opening doors for underserved communities, particularly young people. She said this fits with the city's pledge to encourage the involvement of children in the games, if it hosts, through the distribution of over 500,000 tickets to local youth.

"Since President Obama has assumed office, the USOC and the bid have felt nothing but complete support. Sending the first lady to Copenhagen is an unprecedented statement of support," the USOC said in a statement. "The first lady, as a Chicago native, is a tremendous ambassador for the Chicago 2016 bid. She is a representative of Chicago and of America, of the first family and of their support for the bid."

The White House has also said that Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama's top adviser and the former vice chair of Chicago 2016, will travel to Copenhagen.

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