Oprah and White House Come to Aid of Chicago Bid

(ATR) Oprah Winfrey toasts the IOC commission inspecting Chicago's Olympic bid and the White House pledges more help for 2016. More on the scene coverage from Chicago, inside…

Oprah Winfrey arrives at the City Night gala for the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid. (ATR/Panasonic:Lumix)Oprah Winfrey Says Chicago Olympics Good for Everybody”

Chicago media star and impresario Oprah Winfrey is adding her voice to the chorus of support for the city's Olympic bid.

"It's going to be big, it's huge, it's enormous!" she said to reporters as she arrived at a gala Monday night to honor the visiting IOC Evaluation Commission at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Across the street about two dozen protesters chanted anti-Olympic slogans.

"I don't understand what they're complaining about. It's only going to be good for everybody."

She said the Olympics mean new jobs, new facilities and excitement.

"I think it means a kind of stimulation and energy for the city that we've never even experienced," Winfrey said. "I also think it's one of the greatest cities in the world. I've said that for a long time, because not of what it has meant to me personally, but what it means to everybody who lives here."

Told that President Barack Obama was addressing the guests in a videotape, she said, "I think that's really great because he is a Chicagoan, and this indicates not only his power and influence in the world, but for our city in a way that it lets the Olympic Committee know that the president of the United States who is from Chicago, is also for Chicago having the Olympics here."

"What I'm hoping is we can all have a real honest conversation about what a great city this is and the possibilities it will bring," she said, "not only for the citizens of Chicago, but for the citizens of the world. I'm hoping people will see what we see.”

Obama Administration Steps Up Bid Commitment

Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Barack Obama, told the Evaluation Commission that the White House will form a special liaison office to provide top-level support for the Olympics, which Jarrett herself will lead.

Jarrett is a former vice chair of the Chicago bid.

This is the first time that the federal government has promised this level of support at such an early juncture in the process, months before the host city is selected.

"This level of support at such a high level in the administration is a watershed moment," said USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel.

Chicago 2016 president Lori Healey said that Jarrett is well-acquainted with the demands on an Olympic host city. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the IOC in a video message that Olympic Family members would have easy entry to the U.S. (ATR/Panasonic:Lumix)

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Chicago native appearing in a taped message, said the U.S. will "welcome the world with open arms." In terms of customs and immigration, she said the State Department will "ensure that if the city is selected, all the members of the Olympic family can gain entry in a streamlined and expedited process."

Paralympic Plan

Linda Mastandrea, Director of Paralympic Sport and Accessibility for Chicago 2016, promised the Evaluation Commission a "seamless flow from the Olympic to Paralympic Games" and a quality experience for Paralympic athletes.

She said the central location of the Olympic Village means 95 percent of Paralympic athletes will be 15 minutes or less from the competition venues.

They will be carried in a fleet of accessible vehicles.

Mastandrea said the Evaluation Commission acknowledged that Chicago will have to do "very little additional" to make the city accessible to people with disabilities.

She said Chicago's commitment to accessibility began with Mayor Richard M. Daley, who created a cabinet-level position in his office for people with disabilities. This has ensured that almost every curb in Chicago is cut and the lakefront and beaches are accessible to wheelchairs.

Mastandrea added that all key El stations serving venue stops will be accessible by 2016, if they aren't already.

Paralympic Budget

The budget for the 2016 Chicago Paralympics is $188 million, which is double the cost of the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta.

"This shows not only the Games themselves increasing in size and scope," Mastandrea said, "but the increasing financial commitment in staging the Games, from sponsors and federal support."

She said when she began competing in 1992 in Barcelona, about 3,000 athletes participated and there were 4,000 Paralympic athletes in Beijing.

"Blue-Green Games"

Robert Accarino, Director of Environment, said Chicago 2016 presented an "inspiring environmental plan" to the Evaluation Commission that included a pledge that 100 percent of the energy supplied by Games operations will come from renewable resources.

However, he said specific types of renewable energy had not been determined Leaders of environmental planning for Chicago 2016 are wearing green watches. (ATR/Panasonic:Lumix)simply because the Games are still seven years away. Chicago now has access to solar energy and wind energy and Accarino said the bid committee has talked to companies that develop new technology.

Other initiatives include having all vehicles powered by low carbon fuel or electricity, strategies to reduce water usage in the Olympic Village by 20 percent, reuse of materials in recycling -- such as using converting stadium seats into seats for wheelchairs -- and using innovative lighting products that use 40 percent less energy.

Accarino said the plan was inspired by Chicago's clean air and water and by Lake Michigan itself, the source of Chicago's drinking water.

He said the commitment to the "Blue-Green" Games is based on the blue of clean air and water and Chicago's green parks and nature.

Accarino said the bid committee discussed air quality in Chicago and "demonstrated to them that air quality is good, that it's certainly sufficient for the type of competition that you would have in the Olympic Games."

The city provided detailed information that included a 10-year history of air quality in Chicago and projections to 2016.

"It was a perception we had to deal with because of their own research," Accarino said.

Big Wheel from Wisconsin

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle called his state a "hotbed of cycling," which makes it the best setting for road cycling and mountain biking in Chicago 2016's plan.

And it has something else to offer, too.

"My understanding was they needed hills, so they came up to Wisconsin where we have beautiful hills," Doyle said. "It wil be a spectacular course." Wisconsin Goveror Jim Doyle came to Chicago to talk about plans for road cycling and mountain biking in state capital Madison.(ATR/Panasonic:Lumix)

Doyle, who prsented to the EC on Monday morning, told reporters the road cycling course could be one of the most challenging in Olympic history.

The hub will be Madison and a Olympic satellite village will be at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Doyle said the venues, training sites and housing are mostly already in place, but "to the extent we have to add, we will do what we have to do."

As part of the government stimulus package, Doyle said he hopes high-speed rail could connect Madison with Chicago by 2016. Madison is about 150 miles, or a three-hour drive, from Chicago.

Film of the Day

Chicago 2016 showed a short film to the Evaluation Commission featuring people and places to the soundtrack of "My Kind of Town (Chicago Is)." However, the crooner was not Frank Sinatra, but local singer Kurt Elling.

Snippets of the song - this time actually sung by Sinatra -- were heard blaring from the United Center speakers prior to the commission visit to the arena on Sunday afternoon.

The song was originally part of the musical score for Robin and the 7 Hoods, a 1964 film in which Sinatra starred. It was nominated for the 1964 Academy Award for Best Original Song, but lost to "Chim Chim Cher-ee" from Mary Poppins.

With reporting from Ed Hula and Karen Rosen in Chicago

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