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Obama's love flows for Chicago

world Updated: Oct 02, 2009 17:02 IST

AFP
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US President Barack Obama let his love for Chicago flow in a bid to break the hearts of rival bid cities Rio, Tokyo and Madrid at Friday's vote to choose the host of the 2016 Olympics.

Obama's emotional plea was followed by a sober but powerful presentation from Japan's new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama who said a Tokyo event would build bridges with the world and ensure a green future.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) opened the meeting early on Friday hearing the cases led by government leaders and kings to win the right to stage the Games.

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva was to follow for Rio de Janeiro before Spain's King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero campaign for Madrid.

Odds-on favourite Chicago was first up before the 100-member IOC, and Obama was introduced to the podium by his wife to whom he gave a tender kiss.

"The reason I chose to settle in Chicago 25 years ago is not just because I met that lady who just spoke but because I fell in love with it.."

"I never really had any roots until I came to Chicago and discovered this most American of cities ... It is a rich tapestry of neighbourhoods. If you choose us we walk this path together," he said.

"Chicago is a place where unity is on colourful display, where perfect strangers become fast friends - a city that works."

"It's a buzzling metropolis with the warmth of a small town."

Michelle Obama said that the Games was a vital strand in Obama's diplomatic strategy.

"We would use these Games as a vehicle for reaching out to the world. It would usher in a new era of international engagement," she said

Obama said siting a Chicago Games -- following Atlanta as the last US city to host the Summer Olympics in 1996 -- would allow America to restore its tainted image.

"One of the most important legacies I would like to see Chicago leave in hosting the 2016 Games would be to show America at its best," he said.

"That the USA is open to the world and to that end I have directed the full force of the White House and the State Department behind it. I want people to come away with the impression that America is an open and diverse society.

"Over the past few years the fundamental truth of the United States has been lost.

"The Olympic Games could restore it."

Tokyo, the only one of the four to have previously hosted the Games, offered a vision of change through sport.

The capital's governor, 77-year-old award winning novelist, Ishihara, had earlier warned that the 2016 Summer Olympics could be one of the last because of the parlous state of the environment.

"I saw in 1964 (when Tokyo last hosted the Games) how sport transformed Japan," Ishihara told the IOC.

"50 years later I still believe in sport's power to change things for the better.

"The youth of today faces great challenges and that is why for our grandchildren's hopes, courage and healthy future we must address the problem of the environment," said the former transport minister who has been Governor since 1999.

Ishihara, an acclaimed writer of musicals, bowed out to the backdrop of a photograph of U2's lead singer Bono in front of the environmental project 'Sea Forest'.

While he dealt with his pet subject of the environment, bid leader Doctor Ichiro Kono, tried to assure the IOC members that any perception the Japanese lacked emotions was baseless.

"You've encouraged us to show more passion but the Japanese are not good at showing our emotions," said Kono, who is much admired for his crusade against doping in sport inspired by the Ben Johnson drugs scandal at the 1988 Games.

"Our words may be few but they are full of spirit," added Kono, who was chief medical officer at three Olympics for the Japanese team.

Prime Minister Hatoyama, known for his sometimes lofty and unconventional ideas that have earned him the nickname "The Alien" -- said he had always believed in exploiting the Japanese characteristic of fraternity and the Games were the ideal vehicle for that.

"The fraternity of the Japanese has been always my philosophy and through that building bridges with the world," the 62-year-old said.

"It would be a great honour and privilege for the Japanese people to host the Olympics again.

"To savour together the image of the Olympic Games.

"We would honour the Olympic Charter in letter and spirit," added Hatoyama speaking in beautiful English.

Whilst several of their Olympic medal winning athletes, past and present, spoke, it was their symbol of youth -- 15-year-old gymnast Resa Mishina -- who packed a punch.

"Please choose a city that is dedicated to improving the environment and saving the planet so young children have a future," Mishina said.