WASHINGTON - In a change of heart, United States President Barack Obama will make a last-minute pitch in Copenhagen this week for his hometown Chicago's Olympic bid for the 2016 Summer Games.
A White House official said, on condition of anonymity, that the US president would go to Denmark later this week, before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) votes on the destiny of the Games on October 2 after a battle between Chicago, Madrid, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro.
Obama had previously said that the pressure of his under-fire healthcare reform drive would keep him from attending the crucial meeting, and nominated the first lady to go instead.
But Obama's reversal sets up a high-profile clash on the Olympian political stage between the US president and leaders from Spain, Japan and Brazil also expected in Denmark to push their nations' respective bids.
Earlier this month, Obama, a keen sports fan and devotee of basketball and golf, delivered a strong personal endorsement to Chicago's Olympics crusade, declaring: "We want these Games.
"Chicago is ready. The American people are ready," Obama said in an event on the south lawn of the White House dedicated to the Olympics, Paralympics and youth sport. "We are fired up about this."
Obama is a former senator of Illinois and resident of Chicago.
King Juan Carlos of Spain, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and new Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama are also expected to travel to Copenhagen to lobby the 100 members of the IOC ahead of the vote.
High-powered lobbying by government leaders and royals was seen as a major factor in swaying the IOC as it selected recent Olympic hosts - London for the 2012 Summer Games and Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Games.
London was awarded the 2012 Summer Games partly because former British prime minister Tony Blair went to Singapore to lobby. - Sapa-AFP