In bid for 2016 games the First Lady takes on Brazil and Japan

By Sandra Sobieraj Westfall
Updated September 29, 2009 07:25 PM
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So, the First Lady of the United States and the First Lady of Brazil sit down to dinner. Michelle Obama turns to her South American counterpart and says, “I’m going to hug you now – and then I’m going after you!”

True story. Only Mrs. Obama was joking – sort of – as she recounted the scene from a dinner at last week’s Pittsburgh summit of world leaders.

She told a small group of reporters, including PEOPLE, that she adores the First Lady of Brazil but is pulling out all the stops to make sure Chicago beats out Rio de Janeiro (and Tokyo and Madrid) to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Full Court Press

“Gloves are off,” the lifetime Chicagoan said on the eve of her trip to Copenhagen to lobby for Chicago.

More than 100 members of the International Olympics Committee are eligible to vote and the First Lady says she’s ready to woo them each individually, if she has to. “I’m talking to everybody. That’s what my schedule looks like,” she said Monday. “I don’t think there’s one person left off.”

Personal Appeal

Her appeal is a personal one, harvested from a lifetime lived in the city and a childhood spent fixated on the Olympics games every time they came around. “When the Olympics were on and the time zone worked we watched everything,” she says, recalling girlhood Olympic dreams of her own. “I’m 5-foot-11. I didn’t know that I would be 5-foot-11 at the time, so I thought I could be a gymnast at one point.”

“I still remember Nadia Comaneci with that perfect 10, she popped off that balance beam, and I knew I could do it,” Mrs. Obama said, laughing and shaking her head. “Never could. Legs are way too long for that.”

Mrs. Obama and a U.S. delegation that includes fellow Chicagoan Oprah Winfrey will arrive in Copenhagen on Thursday morning. Why Oprah? “She’s Oprah; enough said,” Mrs. Obama joked. “She brings that extra star quality that’s important.” President Obama will also make the trip.

But for all their hometown cheerleading, Mrs. Obama admits, the First Family have only made it home to Chicago once since the Inauguration in January. “It’s become really tough to find that weekend when somebody doesn’t have something [to do],” she says. “I guess that’s good because that means [Sasha and Malia] are feeling like this is their home,” she says. “But we do miss it.”