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Obama Calls Michelle a Superstar; She Calls Him Pathetic (When It Comes to Fencing)

5 years ago
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If grabbing a play sword and making like Obi-Wan Kenobi in "Star Wars" will help Chicago win the 2016 Olympics, count President Obama in the game.

Obama, First Lady Michelle, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, a sampling of Olympic and Paralympic athletes and area students gathered on the White House South Lawn on Wednesday afternoon for a pep rally where the most important targeted audience was not even there: the 106 voting members of the International Olympic Committee.

The IOC meets Oct. 2 in Copenhagen to vote for the 2016 Summer Games host city, and Chicago is in the running with Tokyo, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro. The cities make their final presentations that day and Japan, Spain and Brazil are sending their top leaders to Denmark.


The Obamas were hosting a demonstration of Olympic sports -- fencing, gymnastics and judo -- for students wearing "Chicago 2016" T-shirts in order to strongly send several messages. For domestic use, the takeaway for kids was to exercise and stay healthy. To the IOC, the scene was to show support for Olympic and Paralympic activities.

Mrs. Obama will be leading the U.S. delegation to Copenhagen, her first major solo assignment. She's pinch-hitting for the president, who organizers had hoped would be going. But he is staying in Washington, he said Wednesday, to work on health care reform. The planners are hoping that he will jet over at the last minute, but can't count on it.

Daley must have felt right at home since so many of the folks on the South Lawn had worked for him at City Hall: Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, Office of Public Engagement Director Tina Tchen and even Mrs. Obama all put in time at the Hall. Another top adviser, David Axelrod, was Daley's political consultant.

The mayor spoke about Chicago's Olympic dream and how the city spawned Olympic legends Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, both African-Americans.

Mrs. Obama then spoke, noting that the students were ready for demonstrations of judo, gymnastics and fencing. She said that just before the First Couple had emerged from the White House, the president tried his hand at fencing.

"You should have seen the president in there fencing. It was pathetic. But he passed the baton really well."

(Another time Mrs. Obama teased her husband was in June 2008 during the presidential campaign, when she was talking to the ladies on "The View." Barbara Walters asked Mrs. Obama how she reacted when husband told her he was running for president. "Did you want him to be president?" Walters asked.

(No, said Mrs. Obama. She recalled saying, " 'Please, don't do this.' You know, I did not want Barack to go into politics because I thought politics was a mean business. And you know, I knew this man that I loved, he was sweet and pathetic, I thought. There was no way."

(It seemed there would be a dust-up afterward over Mrs. Obama calling her husband pathetic. Then Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor called me to say Michelle Obama said "empathetic," not pathetic. As I wrote that day, I listened to a tape several times and heard the word "pathetic." The reaction from the ladies on "The View" suggests that's what they heard too. "It is a word that can be misheard," Vietor said back then.

(Anyway, no one on Wednesday seemed concerned about Mrs. Obama's teasing "pathetic" shot, which was not misheard.)

"I cannot think of a better city to host the 2016 Games than my hometown," said Mrs. Obama.

"I was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago. You probably already know that. So I know a lot about this city. We have our home so close to many of the proposed venues. We can say that we are so pumped up about this, aren't we?"

She added, "And I know that Barack and I would feel such tremendous pride to see the Olympic torch burning brightly in the city that we love so much. So I am honored, deeply honored, to have the opportunity to travel to Copenhagen to make the case for my hometown. . . .

"And I can tell you, personally, what makes Chicago the ideal home for the 2016 Games and I'm very excited to be able to do that in Copenhagen. It's not just the infrastructure or the resources of the city, and it's not just the beautiful parks, because there are many. It's not that gorgeous lakefront that so many will see during the Olympic Games.

"And it's not just the excellent public transportation and accommodations. What makes Chicago such a great host is its people. It's truly the people. Nobody loves sports like the people of Chicago -- trust me. I have spent endless hours in front of baseball TV games, you name it. Whether it's football or soccer, baseball, boxing or a good marathon -- Chicagoans know how to enjoy sports.

"You know, you have to admit, even White Sox fans are impressed by the fact that even though the Cubs haven't won a World Series in centuries, Cubs games sell out. Everybody's there. It doesn't matter. Win or lose, we are going to watch the Cubs."

When the president spoke, he went on about his adopted hometown.

"So let's get right down to business here: The United States is eager to welcome the world to our shores. This nation would be honored to host the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games and to serve as host to thousands of athletes and millions of visitors from around the world. And within this great country of ours, there is no better city than . . . Chicago, Illinois."

He continued: "I would make the case in Copenhagen personally, if I weren't so firmly committed to making . . . real the promise of quality, affordable health care for every American.

"But the good news is I'm sending a more compelling superstar to represent the city and country we love, and that is our first lady, Michelle Obama. She's going because she and I share the conviction that bringing the Games to the United States isn't just important for the city, but for the American people. And I'm confident she, and my senior adviser and Director of the White House Office of Olympic, Paralympic, and Youth Sport, Valerie Jarrett, will represent the American people well."

After the rousing speech, Mrs. Obama and the president watched some sports demos. At one point, the First Couple posed with what looked like foam pirate swords. Mrs. Obama was off to a side as her husband struck his "Star Wars" pose, wielding a light saber as he jousted with Tim Morehouse, a Beijing Olympics silver medal winner.

Morehouse was asked where he kept his medal. In a sock drawer, he said.





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