Texan also says New York deserves bid
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 July 6.
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 stars.
"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.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press