Aug. 13, 2008, 12:12 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Behind the scenes at the Beijing Games, a furious competition is being waged for an Olympic prize with billions of dollars and global prestige at stake.

For Chicago and its three rivals, Beijing is providing the stage to ramp up their campaigns to host the Summer Games of 2016.

Chicago - which is vying with Tokyo, Madrid, Spain, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - is using the occasion to launch international promotion efforts and meet with the International Olympic Committee voters who will decide the contest 19 months from now.

"It's like a trade show," said U.S. IOC member Bob Ctvrtlik, the U.S. Olympic Committee's vice president for international relations. "You can't help but run into members. Everywhere you turn there's a potential voter. All 115 are just waiting and anxious to talk to you."

This is the first chance for the four cities to take their case to international officials since being chosen as bid finalists in June. It's a key phase in the race, which will culminate with a secret ballot on Oct. 2, 2009, at the IOC general assembly in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, bid leader Patrick Ryan and Ctvrtlik are among those spearheading the campaign to bring the Summer Olympics back to the United States for the first time since Atlanta in 1996.

New York finished a humbling fourth out of five finalists in the vote for the 2012 Olympics, which were awarded to London in 2005, but politics, geography and other factors should be much more favorable for Chicago this time.

At a reception this week, the Chicago delegation stressed the compact nature of the bid in the center of the city, saying 90 percent of athletes staying in the Olympic village would be within 15 minutes or less of their competition venues.

In Beijing, Chicago officials have witnessed the spectacular opening ceremony, attended various sports events and observed the logistical workings of China's mammoth Olympic project.

"You get a real sense of the scale and size and complexity of it all," Ryan told The Associated Press. "We knew that, but when you see it in person it becomes even more realistic to you."

Ryan believes the grand scale and historic nature of these games - with which China intends to signal its arrival as a modern country on the world stage - is something which Chicago should not try to match.

"Nobody should try to top this," he said. "This shouldn't be an arms race."

Ryan is staying in Beijing for the entire period of the Olympics, which conclude Aug. 24, and will return for the Sept. 6-17 Paralympic Games. The most valuable part of his mission may be the contacts with IOC members, who have been barred from visiting bid cities ever since the Salt Lake City scandal of 1999.

"They're here," Ryan said. "They're accessible. There's a lot of interest in 2016 developing. I don't think that they're ready yet to get into the detail of the bid but they want to know about the cities. They don't give any sense of preference. They're really happy to have four world-class cities."

Ctvrtlik, a former Olympic volleyball gold medalist whose term as an IOC member expires at the end of the Beijing Games, has noticed an upturn an interest in the 2016 race.

"It's starting," he said. "The attention is starting to turn. We're having much more substantive and serious conversations than ever before. I have members coming up to me and wanting to know the inside scoop on our bid. Fortunately, I've got a strong story to tell."

IOC members often turn to a special topic: the U.S. presidential election. President George W. Bush's unpopularity around the world is reflected in the IOC and was a factor in New York's disappointing 2012 showing. A change of administration in Washington may help Chicago's chances.

"There is a very, very strong interest in the election," Ryan said. "It's amazing how great is the knowledge about the candidates."

And one candidate in particular could be Chicago's trump card: Barack Obama.

"Barack Obama hails from Chicago and lives four blocks from the site of the opening and closing ceremony," Daley said.

Both Obama and Republican candidate John McCain have supported the Chicago bid, but McCain might be less of an asset. He was an outspoken critic of the IOC during the Salt Lake scandal.

"There is no denying that Barack living a few blocks from the Olympic village will be more closely associated with the bid," Ctvrtlik said.

Whoever is elected, Chicago is counting on the next president to go to Copenhagen to represent the bid at the IOC vote.

"I think it will a very important opportunity for the new president to say the U.S. wants the Olympic movement to come back, we want to welcome the whole world to Chicago and the U.S.," Ryan said.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair played a decisive role in London's 2012 victory when he traveled to Singapore to lobby IOC members, and former Russian President Vladimir Putin was instrumental in Sochi's victory for the 2014 Winter Games when he attended the IOC session in Guatemala City in July 2007.

"There's a long way to go," Ryan said. "The decisions are made at the last minute. The advice we're getting from IOC members has been: 'Stay humble and work, work, work until the very end.' That's what we will do."

For now, the race is considered wide open, with no strong favorite.

"Anybody who says one city is ahead or behind is loopy," Ctvrtlik said. "There is no way to tell at this point."