Pyeongchang seen as favorite

Updated: May 18, 2011, 2:56 PM ET
Associated Press

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- Pyeongchang remains the city to beat in the race for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The South Korean resort maintained its front-runner status Wednesday as all three bid cities took their case directly to the International Olympic Committee, seeking to gain vital support just weeks ahead of the vote.

Bid teams from Pyeongchang, Munich and Annecy, France, made pitches to IOC members in one of the most crucial phases of the global two-year campaign.

IOC members said all three cities made convincing closed-door presentations, with no single candidate slipping up or standing out.

"Nobody made a fool of themselves, nobody let themselves down," Irish member Patrick Hickey told The Associated Press. "They were three extremely professional presentations."

The IOC members will vote for the winning bid July 6 in Durban, South Africa.

Third-time candidate Pyeongchang did what it needed to bolster its strong position, stressing it has kept all promises to the IOC through a decade of bidding and pitching the Games to a new winter sports market in Asia.

Munich enhanced its credentials as the main challenger, while Annecy showed it has improved dramatically in recent months and should not be counted out.

"I think it's very close," IOC president Jacques Rogge said. "Don't ask me numbers, but it's going to be a close race, definitely. I don't expect a big gap between the three cities."

The South Koreans brought new star power to the show, with reigning Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yu-na making her international debut to promote Pyeongchang's bid. Another figure skating star, two-time Olympic gold medalist Katarina Witt, chairs the Munich bid.

"I was so much more nervous than when I was competing in the Olympics, but I think it went well," the 20-year-old Kim said. "I had a little bit of a mistake, but nobody noticed, I hope. I'm very satisfied and happy that I did well."

Asked what score she would give her performance Wednesday, Kim said: "10, yeah."

Each city had 45 minutes for presentations featuring speeches and videos, followed by another 45 minutes for questions and answers. Rogge said members asked a total of 27 questions.

The IOC said 88 of its 110 members attended the briefings at the Olympic Museum. On Thursday, the members will visit the candidate cities' exhibition rooms at a Lausanne hotel and have face-to-face meetings with bid leaders.

In the day's only unusual twist, one IOC member sought to raise the issue of International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest on sex assault charges in New York. Hicham el Guerrouj, a two-time Olympic gold-medalist distance runner from Morocco, began to ask Annecy officials about the impact of the Frenchman's case on their bid.

But Rogge cut him off, saying the question was out of place.

Pyeongchang, bidding again after narrow defeats in the voting for the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, has been widely considered the favorite from the start as it seeks to bring the Winter Games to a new hub in Asia. The Winter Olympics have been held twice in Asia, both times in Japan (Sappporo 1972 and Nagano 1998).

Citing a 92 percent public approval rating, by far the highest of the three candidates, Pyeongchang said its bid was a "national priority." Foreign minister Kim Sung-hwan noted that South Korea had spent $1.4 billion in developing an Olympic-caliber ski resort in the Alpensia mountains and is working on a high-speed rail link between Seoul and Pyeongchang.

Munich, the 1972 Olympic host, is seeking to become the first city to stage both summer and winter Games. It has been trying to counter Pyeongchang's status as the favorite by pushing its argument for taking the Games back to their European roots in a country with a long winter sports tradition.

Witt said the choice of an Olympic host city is "about more than just geography," a reference to Pyeongchang's case for taking the Winter Games to Korea for the first time.

"It is a choice about the kind of Olympic experience the athletes of the future should have," she said.

American IOC member Anita DeFrantz asked the Germans about the terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Olympics that left 11 Israeli athletes and coaches dead.

"The mayor [Christian Ude] could explain that the incident in '72 had nothing to do with Munich as a city or with Germany," said Thomas Bach, an IOC vice president who is a senior Munich bid leader. "It was just the beginning of international terrorism, and we appreciated this question to make this clear."

Annecy is seeking to establish itself as a true contender after being seen as a longshot for much of the race. After going through financial and leadership troubles, the bid has been strengthened in recent months.

"I think we are all three even now," IOC member and French ski great Jean-Claude Killy said. "We showed we are a good team. We have a good proposition. We are proud of it. We think we have nothing to envy of the other two bids."


Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press