Finalists for 2014 Olympics likely to be picked


LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- A year before the final vote, the
race for the 2014 Winter Olympics is about to get serious.

The IOC executive board is meeting this week to trim the
seven-city field to a list of finalists, probably three or four.

Expected to make the cut Thursday are Salzburg, Austria, and
Pyeongchang, South Korea, with Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi
also a likely choice.

If the International Olympic Committee goes for a fourth
candidate, Almaty, Kazakhstan, or Jaca, Spain, could get the nod.
Also in the running are Sofia, Bulgaria, and Borjomi, Georgia.

While Thursday's decision will be made by the Olympics'
15-member ruling body, the full 100-plus IOC assembly will select
the host city at its session in Guatemala City from July 4-7, 2007.

Also up for discussion at the three-day board meeting starting
Wednesday is a request to move the swimming finals at the 2008
Beijing Olympics from the evening to morning hours to accommodate
prime-time NBC coverage in the United States.

The proposal, which has prompted an outcry from swimmers,
coaches and broadcasters in Australia, is likely to be put off for
a final decision until later in the year.

The board will also discuss Lance Armstrong's dispute with World
Anti-Doping Agency chief Dick Pound and consider reinstating French
member Guy Drut, who was suspended from the committee in a
corruption case.

A panel of IOC experts has compiled a report analyzing the 2014
bid cities' plans. Technical issues and infrastructure will weigh
heavily in the cut.

"In the winter, it's even more important than the summer," IOC
vice president Thomas Bach said. "While you can move venues for a
Summer Games, you can't move a mountain."

Two of the candidates have a head start: Salzburg and
Pyeongchang were finalists in the vote for the 2010 Olympics, which
were awarded to Vancouver, British Columbia. The little-known
Korean bid finished a surprising second, with the Austrian city

Salzburg, which represents the traditional European Alpine
winter setting, has come forward with a leaner, more compact bid.
It announced Wednesday that it had completed its venue lineup, with
the choice of a 12,000-seat ice hockey arena in Puch-Urstein.

Pyeongchang is hoping to build on its momentum from the first
bid to establish itself as an Asian winter sports capital.

The wild card in the race appears to be Sochi, trying to bring
the Winter Games to Russia for the first time. The Russian
government has thrown its full weight behind the bid, including a
$12 billion investment package, in sharp contrast to the lukewarm
support it offered Moscow's failed attempt for the 2012 Summer

Jaca, nestled in the Pyrenees, is bidding for a fourth time and
has combined its efforts with Zaragoza. Almaty, which made a
preliminary run for the 2002 Games, is back with a bid led by
former cross-country ski champion Vladimir Smirnov.

Choosing the Kazakhstan city as a fourth finalist would allow
the IOC to go for geographical balance, with two bids from Europe
(Salzburg, Sochi) and two from Asia (Pyeongchang, Almaty).

On other matters, the IOC board will:

• Go over the final schedule for the Beijing Olympics, including
the timing of the swimming finals.

Swimming Australia and Channel Seven, which holds Australian TV
rights to the games, have written letters against NBC's request for
morning finals. Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates
has also voiced opposition.

"This is about the integrity of the sport and allowing athletes
to perform to their maximum," Swimming Australia executive
director Glenn Tasker told The Australian newspaper. "To force
this on them would be grossly unfair and would produce a
second-rate meet."

• Review Armstrong's letter seeking the ouster of Pound as head
of WADA. The seven-time Tour de France champion, who was cleared of
doping allegations by a Dutch investigator, accuses Pound of
mishandling the case. Pound disputes the Dutch findings and says
he's unfazed by Armstrong's letter.

• Consider the case of Drut, who was provisionally suspended
from the IOC last year after being convicted in a French political
corruption and party-financing scandal. The former Olympic hurdles
champion was pardoned last month by French President Jacques
Chirac, clearing the way for his return to the Olympic body.