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Chicago loss a blow to 'disappointed' Obama

world Updated: Oct 03, 2009 01:14 IST

AFP
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Chicago's stunning failure to win the 2016 Olympics dealt a personal blow to President Barack Obama, who had lent his hometown his global political prestige to boost its dream of hosting the Games.

Obama and wife Michelle had thrown themselves into the fight for the sporting extravaganza, with the president making a last-minute overnight dash to Copenhagen to lobby the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Chicago's bid.

But his intervention was in vain, as fancied Chicago tumbled in the first round of IOC voting, and Rio de Janeiro won the prize, over Madrid and Tokyo.

The president learned of the Windy City's demise as he sat alone in the private cabin of Air Force One while flying back home over the Atlantic after five hours of impassioned speechmaking and glad-handing in the Danish capital.

"The president is disappointed as you might imagine," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters on the presidential aircraft.

"He feels obviously proud of his wife for the presentation that she made."

"The president would never shy away from traveling anywhere, talking to anyone about this country. He's enormously proud of this effort that was made," he said.

The White House rejected the notion that Obama's disappointment was another politically damaging reverse for an administration struggling to enact an ambitious domestic and foreign agenda.

"Obviously, it was disappointing, we wanted Chicago to get this," the president's senior political advisor David Axelrod told CNN.

"We wanted the US to host the Olympics again," Axelrod said in a flurry of media appearances in an apparent damage control effort.

"The president made, I think, a very strong appeal, and it didn't work out.

"I don't view this as a repudiation of the president or the first lady; there are politics everywhere and there are politics inside that room."

Axelrod suggested that Obama's effort had fallen prey to internal Olympic movement politics.

"I am not suggesting anything nefarious, there is a process here, intensive lobbying that goes on for months and months and months."

Vice President Joe Biden's top economic advisor Jared Bernstein said Obama had been right to try to win the Games for Chicago.

"You can't win if you don't try," Bernstein said on MSNBC.

Obama was expected to address Chicago's plight as soon as he returned to the White House, in remarks expected also to focus on worsening US job figures.

In a trademark soaring speech to IOC delegations earlier on Friday, Obama painted Chicago as an ideal Olympic city, because in its varied ethnic and social make-up, it looked like the world.

"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; to ignite the spirit of possibility at the heart of the Olympic and Paralympic movement in a new generation," he said.

The failure of the Chicago bid, and Obama's decision to associate himself with it, after initially saying he was too busy with his health care reform drive to go to Copenhagen, offered an opening to his Republican foes.

Obama critics will argue he squandered political prestige, and wasted time that he could have better spent dealing with America's political and economic woes.

But Obama was in a political box -- had he stayed at home and Chicago still lost, he might have been accused of damning the bid by snubbing it.

Even before the result was announced on Friday, Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, accused Obama of diverting attention from America's economic plight with his overnight trip to Denmark.

"As President Obama travels to Copenhagen to bring the Summer Olympics to his hometown seven years from now, Americans back home are increasingly concerned they won't have a job seven months from now," Steele said.

The Drudge Report news and gossip website, which frequently delights in attacking Obama, gave a glimpse into how grass roots conservatives might be viewing Obama's role in Chicago's demise.

"The Ego has landed" it said in a splash headline under a picture of Obama. "World Rejects Obama: Chicago out in first round."

Obama took another blow on Friday as official data showed US job losses accelerated to 263,000 in September, pushing the unemployment rate to a new 26-year high of 9.8 per cent.