PARIS -- With the International Olympic Committee in town,
Paris bid officials are jockeying for all the votes they can get.
They already have Lance Armstrong's.
The six-time Tour de France winner threw his support behind
Paris' bid for the 2012 Olympics on Wednesday, the same day IOC
members started assessing the city's plans for the games.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Armstrong
acknowledged he is torn between the competing Paris and New York
bids, but said the French capital deserves to be picked.
Paris would be "outstanding," said Armstrong, who hails from
Austin, Texas. New York also merits support given "everything they
went through the last four, five years," he said, an apparent
reference to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. But he added: "If
they don't win in 2012, they could win in 2016."
NYC2012 officials had no comment on Armstrong's endorsement.
Moscow, Madrid and London also are competing for the games. The
host will be determined in a vote by the full IOC in Singapore on
French officials showed the 13-member IOC panel their bid for
2012, including presentations about the sites that would be used
and the plans to build a $2.52 billion Olympic village on an old
railway yard in northern Paris.
Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, sports minister Jean-Francois Lamour,
bid director Philippe Baudillon and others took part in the meeting
at the hotel where the IOC panel is staying. Inspectors arrived
Tuesday for a four-day tour of the city considered the favorite to
stage the Summer Games.
Lamour spoke of creating a "new sporting infrastructure" for
Paris. He highlighted plans to hold swimming and diving at an
aquatic center near the Stade de France in the gritty northern
suburb of Saint-Denis.
The IOC inspectors also were shown plans for a proposed
Superdome to host gymnastics near Porte de la Chapelle, another
somewhat run-down area of northern Paris. Yet to be built, the
25,000-seat arena would be used for basketball, handball volleyball
and music concerts after the games.
Paris has been under the Olympic spell. The 2012 logo adorns the
facades of the National Assembly and City Hall; lights in the
colors of the logo are projected at night from the bridges of the
Seine; and metros and buses have been decorated with Olympic bid
slogans. On Wednesday, the city unveiled a plan to rename its
national 80,000-seat stadium Stade de France Paris 2012.
Armstrong said Paris was "arguably the best candidate" for the
2008 Olympics, which went to Beijing instead.
"To be fair, I think that Paris deserves the Olympics," he
said before starting Wednesday's stage of the Paris-Nice race.
Armstrong has a soft spot for Paris. For six straight years he
has ridden onto the famed Champs-Elys
Dees as winner of the Tour de
France. But as an American, he has feelings for New York, too.
"You've put me in a hard place, but I think Paris should be an
outstanding city. But I also think that in some points New York
deserves to have something as special as the Olympics," he said.
Paris also picked up support from Arsenal and Chelsea soccer
"My family wants to see it. Now in my lifetime, I hope to have
the chance to see it," Arsenal striker Thierry Henry said in a
video released by the Paris bid organizers.
Paris previously hosted the Olympics in 1900 and 1924, and has
since shown that it can handle big events with the 1998 soccer
World Cup and the 2003 world track and field championships.
The IOC will visit the proposed village site Thursday, as well
as the Roland Garros tennis arena and the Eiffel Tower, where
volleyball would be held under the landmark's giant iron legs.
Thursday's tour coincides with strikes by French trade unions.
The protest is not connected to the Olympic bid, but threatens to
give IOC inspectors a taste of French labor unrest. However, the
strike is set for the southeast of Paris, while the IOC will be
visiting sites in the north and west of the city.
"I have had guarantees from the unions and from police that it
will not interfere with the work of the IOC," Delanoe said. "In a
democracy it is normal that people express their opinions. We hope
all goes well."
On Friday, the panel will lunch with Prime Minister Jean-Pierre
Raffarin and Foreign Minister Michel Barnier and dine at the Elysee
Palace with President Jacques Chirac.