Finalists for 2014 Olympics likely to be picked

Updated: June 20, 2006, 12:56 PM ET
Associated Press

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 third.

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 Games.

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.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press