The White House said Obama would arrive in Denmark on Friday, hours before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) votes on the destiny of the Summer Games after a final battle between Chicago, Madrid, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro.
The trip represents a change of heart: the president had previously said the pressure of his under-fire health care reform drive would keep him at home, and nominated his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama to go instead.
His reversal sets up a joust on the Olympian political stage between the US president and leaders from Spain, Japan and Brazil, who are also expected in Denmark to push their nations’ respective bids.
A personal appearance by Obama, the first by a sitting US president at an Olympic session, could potentially play a crucial role in swaying votes for Chicago’s bid.
The contest has been seen by Olympic observers as one of the closest ever with no clear front runner and all four bids capable of succeeding.
Michelle Obama ‘very confident’
Michelle Obama will go to Copenhagen separately on Wednesday, with Obama’s longtime Chicago friend Valerie Jarrett, who now serves as a senior advisor and head of the White House office of Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport.
“I am very confident in the bid that the United States has submitted,” Michelle Obama said. “I think that we have a good chance.”
Both Obamas will make a presentation on their hometown as part of the Windy City’s final pitch, the White House said.
“They will discuss why Chicago is best to host the 2016 Summer Games, and how the United States is eager to bring the world together to celebrate the ideals of the Olympic movement,” the White House said in a statement.
Chicago’s bid leaders reacted with delight.
“President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama symbolize the hope, opportunity and inspiration that makes Chicago great,” said Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.
High profile ‘Chiago’ bid team
“We are honored to have two of our city’s most accomplished residents leading our delegation in Copenhagen.”
Chicago 2016 Chairman and CEO Patrick Ryan added: “There is no greater expression of the support our bid enjoys, from the highest levels of government and throughout our country, than to have President Obama join us in Copenhagen for the pinnacle moment in our bid.”
The White House repeatedly said Obama was wooing officials on “America’s” Olympic bid, rather than a purely Chicagoan venture, seeking to blunt any criticism that the president’s hometown was getting special treatment.
“I think the notion that the president would have done less because it was a different US city just doesn’t hold a lot of water,” said Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs.
As well as the Obamas, famed US Olympians will also boost Chicago’s team in Copenhagen, including track and field greats Michael Johnson and Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Romanian-born gymnast Nadia Comaneci, who got the first perfect 10.0 score in Olympic history before defecting to the United States.
Obama ‘fired up’ for Chicago
Talk show queen Oprah Winfrey is also expected.
Earlier this month, Obama, a sports fan and devotee of basketball and golf, declared at a White House event: “We want these games”.
“Chicago is ready. The American people are ready.
“We are fired up about this,” said Obama, a former US senator from 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.
Rio de Janeiro ‘frontrunner’
London was awarded the 2012 Summer Games partly because former British prime minister Tony Blair went to Singapore to lobby.
Many existing venues and a compact geographical staging area are seen as the strengths of Chicago’s bid, with Obama calling his home of nearly 25 years “a city of broad shoulders, big hearts and bold dreams”.
The momentum a month ago appeared to be with vibrant Rio de Janeiro, which is in contention to become the first South American city to host the Olympics.
But the gritty midwestern US city has fought back in style, and Obama’s political star power will give another priceless boost to the bid.
Should he win reelection in 2012, and Chicago emerges triumphant on Friday, Obama would be at the end of his second term by the time the Games took place.
In Denmark, the Obamas will meet Queen Margrethe and the president will also hold talks with Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, the White House said.