LONDON(AP) Barack Obama's election as U.S. president could prove crucial in another campaign - the race for the 2016 Olympics.
Obama's victory provides a boost to the bid from Chicago - his hometown - to bring the Summer Games back to the United States for the first time since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
“It's very important,” Chicago bid leader Patrick Ryan told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “He's a man who the world is looking to for leadership and I think he's very popular not only in the U.S., but around the world.
“We share his feeling that the Olympics are an opportunity for the U.S. to reach out to the rest of the world, for building bridges of friendship. It's certainly something he's very committed to.”
Chicago is competing against Tokyo, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro, with the host city to be chosen by the International Olympic Committee at its session in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Oct. 2, 2009.
Ryan is counting on Obama, schedule permitting, to attend the Copenhagen meeting to speak on behalf of the bid. That would be a first for a U.S. president.
“I can't speak for his calendar,” Ryan said. “Who knows what will be happening in the world then, but clearly that would be his goal. I think it's a very important, powerful statement of commitment. It would be very important that he is there.”
Chicago grabbed the world spotlight Tuesday when Obama delivered his acceptance speech before a huge crowd in Grant Park, which happens to be a centerpiece of the city's Olympic bid.
“Clearly the eyes of the world were on Barack Obama and Chicago last night and over the last period of time, and that can't help but be positive,” Ryan said in a telephone interview. “It puts a lot of focus on Chicago, which is very positive. But I'm not at all convinced that it changes the race a lot.”
Had Sen. John McCain won the election, the Olympic race would look different. The Arizona Republican was one of the most outspoken critics of the IOC during the Salt Lake City bid scandals.
Ryan said a quarter of a million people went to see Obama in Grant Park, which would host Olympic archery events in 2016 and is within walking distance of 19 proposed venues.
Obama himself lives in the Hyde Park neighborhood just “a couple of blocks” from the planned Olympic stadium in Washington Park, Ryan said.
A videotaped message from the Democratic candidate greeted the USOC evaluation team when it visited the city last year, and Obama appeared at a celebration with Mayor Richard M. Daley following Chicago's selection as a bid finalist last June.
Ryan has spoken frequently with IOC members during the bid race and found them captivated by the presidential election and Obama's candidacy in particular.
“I think they'll react to the election very positively,” he said. “My discussions over the last 2 1/2 years with IOC members leaves no doubt that the President-elect is very popular around the world and with IOC members. It can't help but reflect positively. But I don't want it to be seen as a sea change in our bid. It's not an assumption anybody should make.”
Obama's potential appearance in Copenhagen next year would follow a recent pattern of world leaders attending the IOC host city votes.
Tony Blair, then Britain's prime minister, traveled to Singapore in 2005 and lobbied decisively for London's winning bid for the 2012 Olympics. Vladimir Putin, then Russian president, went to the IOC meeting in Guatemala last year and was instrumental in Sochi getting the 2014 Winter Games.
“When you look at this history of world leaders attending meetings, it's an amazing, colossal impact,” Irish IOC member Patrick Hickey, who heads the European Olympic Committees, told the AP. “You had Putin in Guatemala and Sochi won. You had Prime Minister Blair in Singapore and London won. Of course, if the president of the United States comes to Copenhagen it has to have a massive impact.”
That prospect has some bid rivals worried.
“I wonder how IOC members will react when Mr. Obama appears in a presentation for Chicago,” Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda told Japanese media Wednesday.
Madrid bid leader Mercedes Coghen was more cautious.
“I'm happy for Obama's victory but in this race for the Olympics, every bid has its moments,” she said. “I think we're all working towards the same goal and are using what we can to win it.
“I don't know if he's made Chicago the favorite. October 2, 2009, is a long way away, and we just have to focus on doing our jobs until then. I think he'll make a great president for a great country.”
If Chicago does get the games, and if Obama wins a second term in office, he could open the Olympics in his home city in the final year of his presidency.
“I would imagine that,” Ryan said. “I can visualize that.”
Meantime, he rejects any front-runner status for Chicago.
“Not at all,” he said, “Maybe some competitors would like that for target practice.”
AP Sports Writer Paul Logothetis in Madrid contributed to this report.