COPENHAGEN - Not even President Obama (AND Michelle, AND Oprah) could stop members of the IOC from steering the 2016 ship into Rio de Janeiro's thankful, partying haven.
Rio de Janeiro was the winner over Madrid in the final round of voting. The committee delivered an early shock exit to Chicago, which was eliminated in the first round. Tokyo was out after the second.
As the good news was delivered to the crowds at Copacabana, predictably a mother of all the parties started. The message to the journalists gathered was to wait until Monday, maybe Tuesday.
The day of high tensions
Obama told the gathering, “Chicago is a city where the practical and the inspirational exist in harmony. I urge you to choose Chicago.”
Following years of lobbying and presentation prep, the four cities each had 45 minutes to make their pitch, and then to answer questions from the IOC members in attendance.
Chicago went first, with videos and speeches – capped by Obama’s plea, who explained how his family moved around a lot when he was a kid and “I never really had roots,” but in Chicago “I finally found a home.” Obama is the first US president to make a direct pitch for an American Olympics site.
Before her husband spoke, Michelle Obama tugged at IOC members’ heart strings by talking during Chicago’s presentation about 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.”
Tokyo stressed its environmental consciousness and Rio reminded conferees that South America had never hosted an Olympics. Chicago is up against charismatic opposition in the shape of Brazilian President Lula da Silva. The bearded former union leader argued that South America has never before held an Olympics and that the games shouldn’t be the exclusive preserve of rich developed countries.
Rio appealed to IOC members who believe it’s their duty to share the Olympic ideals and pursuit of sporting excellence with all corners of the globe. South America is also an untapped market for Olympic sponsors. The romantic appeal of Rio’s beaches and mountains was way too strong, it turned out.
Political costs for Obama
Even as he was on his way to Denmark, Mr Obama was pilloried by the GOP and their right-wing fringe allies for being involved at all in Chicago’s 2016 bid. Analysts predict that Mr Obama’s failure to win will embolden his enemies even further. We’re in for interesting times in Washington, DC.
By Brooks Spector