President Obama lobbied Olympic leaders to give the 2016 Summer Games to his hometown of Chicago, saying early this morning the United States "is ready and eager to assume that sacred trust."
Praising the United States' bid to host the games, Obama told the International Olympic Committee in Copenhagen, Denmark that they should choose Chicago for the same reason he picked it 25 years ago — because it's a great and diverse city.
"There is nothing I would like more than to step just a few blocks from my family's home and with Michelle and our two girls welcome the world back to our neighborhood," Obama said. "At the beginning of this new century, the nation that has been shaped by people from around the world wants a chance to inspire it once more."
The president and his wife, fellow Chicagoan Michelle Obama, put their capital behind an enormous campaign to win the Olympics bid. Never before had a U.S. president made such an in-person appeal.
"I urge you to choose Chicago. And if you do — if we walk this path together — then I promise you this: The city of Chicago and the United States of America will make the world proud," Obama said.
First Lady Michelle Obama made a heartfelt, personal plea, saying the Chicago Olympics would "light up the world." She spoke about how her late father, who had multiple sclerosis, instilled a great love of sports in her and would have been proud to see Chicago host the Paralympic Games.
"It’s about inspiring this generation and building a lasting legacy for the next," she said.
The bid has the Windy City holding its breath. Banners are up, the city's iconic Picasso statue in Daley Plaza is adorned with an Olympics medal, and residents walk the streets talking openly about Chicago's chances.
Almost 10,000 are expected to gather in Daley Plaza Friday -- rain or shine -- to find out Chicago's Olympic destiny. Many more will watch the livestreaming action on NBCChicago.com
Meanwhile the schmoozing in Copenhagen is in overdrive.
President Obama will stay for just five hours to try to tip the outcome Chicago's way. An Obama star turn could swing it — or possibly rebound against him if his adoptive hometown is knocked out. Coming for the day of the vote is a political risk, but so, too, was the risk that Rio might walk away with the win if Obama didn't lend his charisma and inspirational example to Chicago's final push.
His November election as the first black president in U.S. history resonated loudly in Europe, which has the most IOC voting members — 46.
Michelle Obama has been wowing IOC members with her charm and smarts for the past two days. Reports say the voters are eschewing protocol and seeking out the first lady's attention. Oprah Winfrey is part of Chicago's hard sell, too. She swept Hollywood-style into the marbled lobby of the IOC hotel on Thursday, turning heads and stopping every other step to shake a hand or pose for a photo with IOC members and their wives.
Locals and IOC members alike have gone crazy for the talk show queen.
But Chicago is up against equally charismatic opposition in the shape of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. The bearded former union leader makes a compelling case for Rio. Foremost of those is that South America has never before held an Olympics and that the games shouldn't be the exclusive preserve of rich developed countries. That is an argument the other cities can't use because their countries have all held the Olympics before. Like Mrs. Obama, Silva has been lobbying IOC members personally in Copenhagen, as has Spanish King Juan Carlos.
Rio appeals 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 is strong. The soothing samba song "Mas que nada" — "Don't worry about it" — playing in the auditorium lent an exotic, dreamy air to a news conference that Silva held Thursday.
"For some countries, it is just one more sports event that they are going to organize," he said. "But for us, it is a unique and extraordinary thing."
He even borrowed Obama's catchphrase: "We want to overcome and show the world that yes we can."
Despite all the posturing, the IOC's 106 members were, as ever, keeping their thoughts close to their chest. 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.
"This is the big question, how will it go?" said Willi Kaltschmitt, an IOC member since 1988.
"There have been so many surprises in the past," he said. "It's very even at the moment. It all depends what happens in the first round."
As cities go out, loyalties will shift. That is where the contest will be won or lost. If Tokyo goes out first, will its supporters swing behind Rio, Madrid or Chicago and by how much for each? And could Madrid stun front-runners Chicago and Rio in the second round, knocking one of them out, with its seemingly solid core of backers?
The variables are such that any city could conceivably win or lose. A few votes either way could decide it. That is especially true this time, with all four cities seen as generally capable of holding the games. Some IOC veterans say there has been no closer contest in recent memory.
To prevent bribery, IOC members aren't allowed to visit the bidding cities — so they'll be deciding instead based on what they've been told and, for some, their gut instincts, their emotions and personal interests.
"It is a very special moment," said Gerhard Heiberg, an IOC executive board member from Norway. "Let me listen to him and see what kind of vision he has for the games."
The final throw of the dice for all four cities will be their 45-minute presentations of speeches and videos, followed by questions, that they will make in turn Friday before the vote. Kaltschmitt said he believes that 40 percent of his colleagues on the IOC were undecided going into Friday and were waiting for the presentations to make up their minds.
Added Heiberg: "We've already heard about the technical plans. I want something more. I want to know about the vision. The leaders have to lift it up. I want to know why they want the games."
Rogge doesn't vote and, as long as their cities haven't been eliminated, neither can members from Brazil, the United States, Spain and Japan.
That leaves 97 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.
British bookmakers had Chicago pulling away in the last hours as the clear but not overwhelming favorite.
"But don't forget that Paris was the favorite to beat London the last time," said Graham Sharpe, spokesman for betting agency William Hill. "The favorite doesn't always win."