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Obama Bombs: Chicago Last in Olympic Race

COPENHAGEN - Even the First Couple couldn't keep the USA from finishing dead last in the race for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

In the boldest rejection yet of U.S. attempts to regain premier standing in the Olympic world, the International Olympic Committee on Friday sent Chicago out in the first round of voting for the 2016 host.

Madrid and Rio de Janeiro are still in the final round of voting. The winner will be announced at 1 p.m. ET.

The result blunted any perceived "Obama effect" and left President Obama vulnerable to critics who over recent days questioned whether he should take time out from his usual presidential duties to pitch for his wife's hometown and the city where he launched his political career.

It also leaves U.S. Olympic officials to again rethink their strategy for regaining favor with their international counterparts. Four years ago, New York went out in the second round of voting for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

To help Chicago land the first U.S.-hosted Summer Olympics since the 1996 Atlanta Games, Michelle Obama arrived in Copenhagen earlier this week to meet one-on-one with IOC members. The president flew in Friday morning, addressing IOC members during Chicago's final presentation and shaking members' hands during a coffee break before departing.

His message was one that plays well in international Olympic circles: That it was time for the USA to make "visitors from all around the world feel welcome."

"One of the legacies I want to see coming out of the Chicago 2016 hosting of the Games is a reminder that America at its best is open to the world," Obama said when IOC member Syed Shahid Ali of Pakistan asked for assurances that foreigners entering the USA for the Olympics would have few problems.

Stricter entry controls instituted after 9/11 have been a source of friction between U.S. Olympic officials and the IOC.

U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Larry Probst tried to address other underlying tensions during Chicago's presentation, saying he wants to "create a legacy in which the USOC serves the Olympic movement as a vital and trusted partner."

In the last year, the USOC has tangled with the IOC over revenue sharing - the USOC receives 20 percent of IOC sponsorship revenues and 12.75 percent of broadcast rights fees while the other 204 national Olympic committees share the rest - and over the USOC's plans to launch a U.S. Olympic network. The IOC is concerned such a network will undercut its U.S. broadcast partner.

The revenue-sharing discussions were delayed until 2013, and the USOC put the network plans on hold.

IOC President Jacques Rogge last month predicted those issues would have "no negative effect whatsoever" on Chicago's bid. But the loss could have USOC examining whether they actually did and perhaps trying to craft a new approach.

Not since Los Angeles lost in its bids for the 1976 and 1980 Games has the USA failed to land the Summer Olympics in two consecutive votes. Los Angeles did land the 1984 Games, which because of their unprecedented commercial success, set the IOC on a path to unimagined profitability and considerably enhanced the USA's standing in the Olympic world.

Those gains were lost over the last decade, first with the bid scandal that erupted in advance of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, which revealed the excesses being showered on IOC members by bid cities. Leadership turmoil at the USOC - the organization had six presidents and CEOs from 2000 to 2003 - further eroded its relationship with the IOC.

In addition, the globally unpopular policies of the Bush administration post-9/11 greatly hampered the USOC's efforts at improving international relations.

Obama's election last year was seen as an opportunity to turn the tide, because of his open-arms approach and desire to re-engage with the world.

But amid the arcane workings of the IOC, even that, it appears, has not pushed the USA over the hurdle.

1 Responses »

  1. How many Olympic athletes could we have sent to Rio for what Obama spent?