WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama is putting his personal powers of persuasion on the line in a pitch in Copenhagen in support of Chicago's Olympics bid.
The president's whirlwind trip was to put him in the Danish capital for less than five hours Friday, with Chicago-backers hoping that would be sufficient to give Obama's adopted home town the advantage it needed to win the close, four-way race to become the host city of the 2016 Summer Games.
Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo have been making their cases to the International Olympic Committee for more than a year, but many IOC members were believed to be undecided about which city they would vote for Friday. Some said they might not decide until after the cities made their final presentations in Copenhagen.
Enter Obama. He was to take part in Chicago's 45-minute presentation, although details about his role were kept secret. But anticipation -- and expectations -- ran high.
The Chicago bid committee had asked the US president to take part in the Copenhagen meeting several times. Despite being a longtime supporter of Chicago's bid, Obama said the debate on health care overhaul in Congress might keep him from attending. He asked first lady Michelle Obama, a Chicago native, to go instead.
Aides said the president only made the decision to make an overnight flight to Copenhagen after determining that a short trip wouldn't take away from his work on health care.
But the compressed time frame did not shield Obama from criticism that he shouldn't be hopscotching to Europe in Air Force One when there were so many pressing issues to deal with in the US such as health care, the war in Afghanistan and the financial meltdown.
"The problems we have here at home affect all Americans, and that's where his attention ought to be," House Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said Wednesday.
Though IOC President Jacques Rogge has said heads of state aren't required to attend the IOC meeting, recent votes indicate their presence can make a difference.
During the 2005 IOC meeting in Singapore, then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair successfully lobbied members on behalf of London's bid for the 2012 Summer Games. Two years later, Vladimir Putin, then president of Russia, helped secure the 2014 Winter Games for Sochi on Russia's Black Sea coast.
Obama would be the first US president to make an in-person appeal to the IOC on behalf of an American bid. Heads of state representing all of Chicago's competitors also were to be in Copenhagen.
In advance of Obama's arrival, Mrs. Obama did some high-powered lobbying for Chicago. The first lady has been in Copenhagen since Wednesday, holding one-on-one meetings with IOC members. She also was to have a speaking role in Chicago's presentation and was expected to focus on her personal experiences growing up and raising a family in the city.
Mrs. Obama said she's relying on lessons learned during the 2008 presidential campaign, when the Obama team focused on making personal connections with voters and rallying support up until the last possible moment.
"You can't take any vote for granted," Mrs. Obama said Wednesday. "Nobody makes the decision until they're sitting there."
Following the Chicago presentation, the Obamas were to meet with Denmark's Queen Margrethe, and the president with Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen.
By the time the winning bid is announced, the US president should be back on a plane to Washington.