COPENHAGEN, Oct. 2 — The International Olympic Committee selected Rio de Janeiro over Madrid to host the 2016 Summer Games after eliminating Chicago in a stunning first round of voting Friday despite an unprecedented lobbying effort by President Obama.
Just hours after Obama left Denmark following a brief visit in which he made a personal appeal to the IOC on behalf of his adopted home town, Chicago received the least votes of the four competing cities in the first round. Tokyo fell out in the second round of the secret-ballot voting by more than 90 IOC members.
The victory for Brazil marked the first time that an Olympic Games had been awarded to a South American country. Huge crowds in Rio burst into cheers, applause and song at the news.
The fact that Rio prevailed was no surprise — the Brazilian bid was considered the sentimental favorite because the other contending countries have all hosted games in the past — but Chicago’s elimination in the first round produced audible gasps from those in the Bella Center ballroom where the voting took place.
“We’re deeply disappointed,” said Bob Ctvrtlik, a vice president of the U.S. Olympic Committee. “It was a strong bid, and I went around and heard the IOC say it was a strong bid. But the first round in these things [is] tricky. People are voting with their loyalties sometimes. It can be continental.”
Ctvrtlik speculated that the U.S. Olympic Committee’s failure to connect with the Olympic world at large might have hurt the bid. The USOC recently changed its president and chief executive, and the United States has not had a seat on the IOC’s executive board for years.
“The U.S. Olympic movement hasn’t engaged with the IOC in a long time,” he said. “I don’t think it’s anti-American, but we still don’t have the horsepower to do the politicizing.”
Most members of the Chicago delegation huddled behind closed doors immediately after the announcement. “We’re all in a room right now,” Larry Wert told the Universal Sports network by telephone. “Everyone’s staring at each other, hugging, starting to digest this.”
The United States has now suffered two crushing defeats in Olympic selections. In the race for the 2012 Summer Games, New York City finished fourth, but its bid had been damaged when its plans for a $1 billion Olympic stadium collapsed a month before the vote. London prevailed in the race for those Games.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva campaigned passionately for his country’s bid.
After the selection of Rio was announced, the Brazilian delegation in the ballroom erupted in a joyous celebration. Soccer great Pelé cried; Lula wrapped himself in the Brazilian flag; supporters sang and clapped.
“Rio had for the first time the opportunity,” said Willi Kaltschmitt, an IOC member from Guatemala. “The report of the commission was excellent. It was time to rotate.”
Kaltschmitt said he was surprised to see Chicago eliminated in the first round after the “great support” from President Obama.
“Chicago was not supposed to go out in the first round,” he said. “We all agreed it was among the [top] two bid cities competing. . . . The USOC will want to figure out what really happened.”
The choice of Rio marked the second time since 2001 that the IOC has opted to spread the Games around the world. Beijing won the right to put on last year’s Summer Games, even though many IOC members said Toronto had submitted a better bid.
The IOC’s evaluation team raised questions about crime in Rio, the lack of hotels and the spread-out nature of the venues.
Obama’s decision to lobby personally on behalf of his home city was considered a major boon to the U.S. bid. But considering the magnitude of the defeat, it now appears likely to face questions. Even before Chicago’s elimination was announced, critics had challenged the president’s priorities at a time when he is struggling with the issue of health-care reform, and some Chicagoans considered the Games a waste of taxpayer money. The United States has not held a Summer Olympics since the Atlanta games in 1996.
In his speech to the IOC, the first such address by a sitting U.S. president, Obama had emphasized Chicago’s diversity and America’s desire to bring the world together.
But his appeal — and an emotional speech preceding it by first lady Michelle Obama — failed to sway the IOC voters.
“Chicago, having obtained the least number of votes, will not participate in the next round,” IOC President Jacques Rogge said after reading the results of the initial balloting. The first round of electronic voting started shortly after 5:20 p.m. local time (11.20 a.m. EDT) and lasted about a minute.
According to tallies released later, Madrid received 28 votes in the first round, Rio 26, Tokyo 22 and Chicago 18. In the second round, Rio led with 46 votes, followed by Madrid with 29 and Tokyo with 20. In the final round, Rio prevailed by a 2-to-1 margin, outpolling Madrid by 66 votes to 32. The totals varied from round to round because IOC members are barred from voting when cities from their home countries are still in the running.
In Chicago’s Daley Plaza, a collective gasp of surprise and disappointment rose from several hundred people who had gathered to watch the vote on large screens next to a fountain with water dyed orange, Chicago’s bid color.
“I’m not shocked that we lost. I’m absolutely, completely shocked that we lost in the first round,” said Chicago sports marketer Jeff Bail.
Luciano Reyes speculated that Chicago was undone by a negative reputation internationally.
“The violence in the schools became an international issue, and all the corruption; the rest of the world just sees us as Crook Town,” said Reyes, 59, currently unemployed, who bought his first TV two decades ago specifically to watch the Olympics.
A crowd that had lined up early in the morning for free Olympic T-shirts quickly dispersed after the news.
“Maybe they were over-confident,” said accountant Tracy Arnswald, 25. “I was looking forward to celebrating, maybe next time.”
The defeat represented not just a blow to Chicago and the U.S. Olympic Committee, but also to Obama, who took a significant political risk by flying here to lobby personally for his home city.
Obama, who spoke in the crowded hotel ballroom shortly after his arrival in Denmark, had received lengthy applause as he capped a dynamic speech-and-video presentation by Chicago’s bid team. Chicago had led off a series of presentations by each of the competing cities hours before the IOC was scheduled to vote by secret ballot to choose a 2016 host city.
Obama and Michelle Obama, who flew to Denmark Thursday, later attended an informal reception with IOC members, then met with Queen Margrethe II and Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen before leaving the country aboard Air Force One. They were en route back to Washington during the IOC’s voting and subsequent announcements. Obama spent about five hours in Copenhagen.
Obama, who sat next to Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley with the other members of Chicago’s bid team before and after his address, listened intently to questions posed by IOC members after he spoke. He even stepped in to respond to an IOC member from Pakistan, who expressed concern about the “harrowing” process of getting into the United States for Olympic visitors.
“One of the legacies I want to see coming out of” the Games, Obama said, “is a reminder that America at its best is open to the world.” He added, “We are putting the full force of the White House and State Department to make sure that not only is this a successful Games, but that visitors from all around the world feel welcome and will come away with a sense of the incredible diversity of the American people.”
Obama then gestured with his hand at the room, in which the IOC members sat behind rows of long tables.
“We’ve got everybody,” Obama said. “This could be a meeting in Chicago, because we look like the world. And I think that over the last several years sometimes that fundamental truth about the United States has been lost.”
The answer received applause.
During Rio’s presentation later, Lula said winning the bid to host the Olympics would mean more to his nation than to the others competing.
“I represent the hopes and dreams of 190 million Brazilians,” he said. “This bid is not just ours, but South America’s bid.”
Lula also said: “It’s time to light the Olympic cauldron in a tropical country.”
Tokyo, represented by new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and several members of the royal family this week, offered the most subdued presentation, focusing more on technical issues and logistics.
Madrid, meanwhile, brought out former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, a legendary figure in the Olympic movement, who made a personal plea to his former colleagues on the committee.
“I am 89 years old. I know I am near the end of my life,” he said. “Would you do me the honor of allowing my country to organize the Games in 2016?”
In his prepared remarks to the IOC, Obama said hosting the world’s athletes would be “a high honor and a great responsibility” and that America was “ready and eager to assume that sacred trust.”
Obama spoke to the IOC’s membership after an emotional address from Michelle Obama, a Chicago native who recalled the exposure to sports she got through her late father, who suffered from multiple sclerosis.
“He taught me how to throw a ball and a mean right hook better than any boy in my neighborhood,” she said.
“That’s why I’m here today,” Michelle Obama said. “I’m asking you to choose Chicago. I’m asking you to choose America. And I’m not asking just as the first lady of the United States who is eager to welcome the world to our shores. . . . I’m also asking as a daughter. . . . My dad was my hero.”
President Obama then attempted to emphasize how Chicago represented the Olympic ideals through its diversity and working-class culture.
In his quest as a young man for a city to call home, he said, “I came to discover that Chicago is that most American of American cities, but one where citizens from more than 130 nations inhabit a rich tapestry of distinctive neighborhoods.” And he evoked his election as president last November, when he said people from all over the world gathered in Chicago or in front of their televisions to watch the returns.
“Their interest wasn’t about me as an individual,” Obama said. “Rather, it was rooted in the belief that America’s experiment in democracy still speaks to a set of universal aspirations and ideals. Their interest sprung from the hope that in this ever-shrinking world, our diversity could be a source of strength.”
He stressed that he chose Chicago as a home 25 years ago because of the city’s multicultural offerings — not just because of Michelle Obama’s power of persuasion.
But he quipped, “After getting to know her this week, I know you all agree she’s a big selling point for the city.”
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