COPENHAGEN — Chicago was expected to be one of the last two cities in the race. Instead, it was the first to go.
In one of the biggest upsets in International Olympic Committee voting history, Chicago was eliminated in the first ballot Friday for the 2016 Olympics on Friday. Not even the presence of President Barack Obama and the first lady – nor a long list of celebrities – was enough to help the United States' third-largest city.
"It just wasn't our day to win," said Pat Ryan, chairman of Chicago's organizing committee. "That's just the way it goes. Some days you win, some days you don't."
This was one of the strongest, most united bids the United States had ever submitted, and it had full government support – all the way to the White House. The Obamas' home is just a few steps away from where Chicago organizers had planned to put the stadium, and they were longtime supporters of the plan.
Obama was the first sitting president to lobby in person at a bid city vote, taking time out from the health care debate and flying overnight. He arrived less than an hour before Chicago's presentation, and made an emotional plea for his adopted hometown, saying the United States is at its best when it opens its arms to the world.
Michelle Obama did one better, spending two days meeting IOC members one-on-one. Many seemed charmed by her, and her personal stake in the games as someone who grew up on Chicago's South Side.
"I honestly don't think there was a group that would deliberately seek to insult the U.S. president and first lady in the first round. I don't think there was a concerted move to do that," senior Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper said. "There is no evidence other than a positive reaction to their presence. The whole thing doesn't make sense other there has been a stupid bloc vote."
Though Ryan had cautioned about the danger of the first round, few expected the American city to end up anywhere but the finals. Chicago's plan was athlete friendly, putting 90 percent of them within 15 minutes of their venues. Instead of grand new buildings that would have little use after the games, Chicago was going to use existing or temporary venues, protecting against the large cost overruns that have plagued Vancouver and London.
The U.S. Olympic Committee had also made a concerted effort to tone down its testy relationship with the IOC, reaching out to other countries to show it was an interested partner, not a detached overseer. The words "partner" and "partnership" were repeated often during Chicago's presentation.
USOC chairman Larry Probst even dumped the organization's long-percolating plans for its own TV network after the IOC vehemently objected, concerned it would compete with broadcast partner NBC.
Though eventual winner Rio de Janeiro had been considered the front-runner after the IOC's evaluation commission's report was released, Chicago had picked up momentum in the last few days, particularly with the first lady's lobbying effort. Indeed, oddsmakers had listed Chicago as favorites as late as Friday morning.
"We had a good plan. We had a good team," said Ryan, an insurance magnate who invested nearly four years and a great deal of his own money in the bid effort. "That's just the way it goes."
Back in Chicago, where residents had gathered at Daley Plaza, an audible gasp went up from the crowd when Chicago's stunning dismissal was announced. Mayor Richard M. Daley, who had made the games his pet project, never made it to the Bella Center. On his way when he got the news, he turned around and went to commiserate with a few hundred Chicago supporters who had traveled to Copenhagen.
"I was shocked. I was disappointed. I couldn't believe it," said Daley, who said Chicago is unlikely to bid for 2020. "We marketed our city around the world and we couldn't pay for that. ... Like anything else in life, you move on."
There were some IOC members who were shocked, too.
"Either it was tactical voting, or a lot of people decided not to vote for Chicago whatever happened," said Gerhard Heiberg, an IOC executive board member. "Nobody knows, but everybody is in a state of shock. Nobody believes it. I'm very sorry about it."
Some IOC members theorized that a few voters who liked Chicago actually voted for Tokyo in the first round, figuring the American city would get through easily and not wanting the Japanese capital to be embarrassed.
"I'm shocked and disappointed that this would happen to the United States," Gosper said. "I can only think it must have been an accident or mishap in preliminary thinking by an Asian constituency."
Whatever it was, it's a very public humiliation for the United States – and will likely have long-lasting implications for the USOC.
Embarrassed by New York's second-round ouster in 2012 bidding, the USOC shaped up its bid process this time around, holding a protracted domestic competition to make sure it had a truly viable candidate.
That, plus the USOC's efforts to shore up international relations, was supposed to improve the country's hopes of bringing the Summer Games back to the United States for the first time since 1996.
"We'll just have to see. When we said right place, right time, we meant it," said Bob Ctvrtlik, a former IOC member who is now the USOC's vice chair of international relations. "I don't think it's anti-American. I think we still don't have the horsepower to do the politicking. International engagement takes a lot of time."
But the USOC had plenty of missteps that could have hurt Chicago. In addition to the network, the USOC and IOC have had a long-simmering battle over revenue sharing. The United States gets the largest portion – its companies also provide the largest chunks of IOC revenue – and that incensed some IOC members. Probst and acting CEO Stephanie Streeter worked out a compromise earlier this year, but the wrangling was still a distraction as Chicago was trying to lobby for support.
And after years of relatively stable leadership, the USOC had a messy transition when Jim Scherr, a former Olympic wrestler who was well-liked in the movement, was dumped and replaced by Streeter.
But Ryan refused to blame USOC leaders, saying this simply wasn't Chicago's time.
"The USOC did a great job, I don't think they had a thing to do with us not making it into the second round," Ryan said. "It just wasn't our day."