Obama win boosts Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid

By Stephen Wilson

LONDON – Barack Obama’s election as president could prove crucial in another campaign – the race for the 2016 Olympics.

Obama’s victory provides a boost to the bid from Chicago – his hometown – to bring the Summer Games back to the United States for the first time since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

“It’s very important,” Chicago bid leader Patrick Ryan told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “He’s a man who the world is looking to for leadership and I think he’s very popular not only in the U.S. but around the world.

“We share his feeling that the Olympics are an opportunity for the U.S. to reach out to the rest of the world, for building bridges of friendship. It’s certainly something he’s very committed to.”

Chicago is competing against Tokyo, Madrid, Spain and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The host will be chosen by the International Olympic Committee in Denmark on Oct. 2, 2009.

Ryan is counting on Obama, schedule permitting, to attend the Copenhagen meeting to speak on behalf of the bid. That would be a first for a U.S. president.

“I can’t speak for his calendar,” Ryan said. “Who knows what will be happening in the world then, but clearly that would be his goal. I think it’s a very important, powerful statement of commitment. It would be very important that he is there.”

Chicago grabbed the world spotlight Tuesday when Obama delivered his acceptance speech before a huge crowd in Grant Park, a centerpiece of the city’s Olympic bid.

“Clearly the eyes of the world were on Barack Obama and Chicago last night and over the last period of time, and that can’t help but be positive,” Ryan said by telephone. “It puts a lot of focus on Chicago, which is very positive. But I’m not at all convinced that it changes the race a lot.”

Had Sen. John McCain won the election, the Olympic race would look different. The Arizona Republican was one of the most outspoken critics of the IOC during the Salt Lake City bid scandals.

A crowd of about 125,000 saw Obama in Grant Park, which would host Olympic archery in 2016 and is within walking distance of 19 proposed venues. Obama lives in the Hyde Park neighborhood a few blocks from the planned Olympic stadium in Washington Park, Ryan said.

A videotaped message from the Democratic candidate greeted the USOC evaluation team when it visited the city last year, and Obama appeared at a celebration with Mayor Richard M. Daley following Chicago’s selection as a bid finalist last June.

Ryan has spoken frequently with IOC members during the bid race and found them captivated by the presidential election and Obama’s candidacy in particular.

“I think they’ll react to the election very positively,” he said. “My discussions over the last 2 1/2 years with IOC members leaves no doubt that the president-elect is very popular around the world and with IOC members.

“It can’t help but reflect positively. But I don’t want it to be seen as a sea change in our bid. It’s not an assumption anybody should make.”