Monday, July 4, 2011
Olympic bid cities in final stretch
DURBAN, South Africa -- The three candidates to host the 2018 Winter Olympics began three final days of frantic campaigning Monday, with the two leading contenders boosted by the backing of a president and a soccer great, and the outsider insisting it still can win.
The bid teams from Pyeongchang, South Korea; Munich; and Annecy, France, reached the home stretch, with their final presentations to the International Olympic Committee -- and frenzied behind-the-scenes lobbying -- all that's left before Wednesday's vote.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak -- who traveled to South Africa for the 123rd IOC session and the vote -- said it was his "duty" to deliver a first-ever Winter Games for his country. Munich called in the star power of World Cup-winning player and coach Franz Beckenbauer.
Underdog Annecy, meanwhile, insisted it was still a three-horse race.
Pyeongchang, which failed in consecutive bids for the 2010 and 2014 Games, is favored to finally win over the IOC at its general assembly in Durban and become only the third Asian city -- and first outside Japan -- to host the Winter Olympics.
Japan's Sapporo, in 1972, and Nagano, in 1998, are the only previous Asian cities to stage the event.
In the final run-up to the deciding vote by IOC members, Pyeongchang kept on with its message of taking winter sports to new markets -- and a new country -- under a bid slogan of "New Horizons."
"We worked very hard and we hope members of the IOC will recognize and appreciate the efforts we have made," Lee said, speaking to a small group of reporters in Korean through an interpreter. "By hosting the games, we hope to spread the spirit of the Olympics beyond Pyeongchang -- throughout Asia."
Munich is bidding to become the first city to host a Summer and Winter Olympics, following its 1972 Summer Games.
The Bavarian capital wants to return the Winter Olympics to the heart of Alpine sport in central Europe, in direct contrast to Pyeongchang's new Asian frontier. It also hopes to bring the Winter Games back to Germany for the first time since 1936.
Bid leaders called in Beckenbauer, who helped Germany host the 2006 soccer World Cup, and said he would arrive in South Africa on Tuesday -- just over 24 hours before the vote.
Beckenbauer's appearance was "a little surprise," said Katarina Witt, the chairwoman of Munich's bid committee.
"We are very happy that he is joining us and will be here to support us," said Witt, a two-time Olympic figure skating champion. "I think we do have a great momentum going on."
Annecy was seen as having fallen behind even before the final week of bidding in South Africa, but bid president Charles Beigbeder insisted Monday the French Alpine resort was still a contender.
"I don't share your view (that we are outsiders)," Beigbeder told reporters on South Africa's east coast. "Our candidacy has been qualified as an exceptionally high level by the IOC, so there is no actual favorite or an underdog.
"It is a three-horse race and there are just 48 hours now from the vote. Everything is possible."
Annecy also countered Munich's move with its own soccer celebrity, with Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger announcing his support for the French city.
"The Alps are recognized all over the world, so Annecy 2018 would provide a perfect platform to raise the profile of winter sports and Olympism everywhere," Wenger said.
Gerald Imray can be reached at http://twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP