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IOC to reveal site for 2012 Summer Games
SINGAPORE -- A return to Paris for the first time since 1924? Back to London after more than half a century? A first for the Big Apple? Another fiesta in Spain? A reward for the new Russia?
After all the global campaigning, furious lobbying and last-minute pitches by world leaders and sports celebrities, the most glamorous and hotly contested Olympic bid race in history will be decided today when the International Olympic Committee chooses among Paris, London, New York, Madrid and Moscow to be the host city for the 2012 Summer Games.
Paris, the longtime front-runner, goes in as the perceived favorite and London a strong challenger. New York and Madrid would be surprise winners, while Moscow is a long shot.
But IOC members said the race remains tight, wide open and impossible to call. Much could depend on the impact of the bid cities' final presentations and the vagaries of the round-by-round secret voting procedure.
IOC president Jacques Rogge said the vote could be similar to 1993, when Sydney defeated Beijing 45-43 in the final round to land the 2000 Olympics. He even raised the possibility of a tie vote.
"The most intriguing thing will be if I have to give the deciding vote," Rogge told The Associated Press. The IOC president only votes in case of a deadlock.
The result could hinge not so much on the technical merits of the bids but on less tangible factors such as politics, emotion and self-interest among the 100 or so IOC members.
Recent host city elections were driven by defining issues, but the 2012 race offers an unprecedented field of world-class cities, and none has a built-in sentimental advantage.
"Before, we have known more or less which one we think should win and try to move it in the right direction," said IOC executive board member Gerhard Heiberg of Norway. "This time, it's not necessary. It's very open."
Paris is bidding for the third time in 20 years after losing the 1992 and 2008 Olympics -- and the IOC tends to reward persistence. The French capital has a ready-to-go Olympic stadium in the Stade de France and embraces the IOC's blueprint for controlling the size and cost of the games, including 13 proposed temporary venues.
"We are here to win," said Essar Gabriel, deputy CEO of the Paris bid. "More than ever, we are pulling out all the stops to do that. It's about time this unfolds. It's time to see who is elected the host city. We're looking forward to that."
London, which last held the games in 1948, portrays itself as the city on the move -- timing its finish in the mold of the last-lap kicks of bid leader and two-time Olympic 1,500-meter champion Sebastian Coe. The British bid is centered on the massive urban renewal of a dilapidated area of East London.
Asked whether London was well placed, Coe said, "Oh yes. We'll be all right. I sense that there is discernible momentum out there."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair spent two days in Singapore lobbying for London before leaving Tuesday night to host the G-8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. His European rival, French President Jacques Chirac, arrived Tuesday to take part in Paris' final presentation Wednesday and was leaving for Scotland before the result was to be announced.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton flew in Tuesday to join Muhammad Ali as high-profile boosters of New York's bid, which won the approval of the IOC executive board for its new stadium plans. Last month, a state board rejected a proposed stadium in Manhattan, and New York officials quickly devised plans for a stadium in Queens.
"Nervous, excited, optimistic," New York bid leader Dan Doctoroff said as the vote approached. "Our delegation has done a fabulous job of reinforcing our message to the IOC members. I think it's anybody's ballgame. I think it's very fluid."'
Madrid, the wild card of the race, benefits from the lobbying efforts of former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch and the strong royal links with King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia. But Madrid could be hindered by the fact that Spain held the Olympics in 1992 in Barcelona.
Moscow, which hosted the games in 1980, contends that the 2012 Games would accelerate democracy and change in post-Soviet Russia. President Vladimir Putin will speak publicly in English for the first time in a taped video message as part of Moscow's presentation.
Rogge dismissed the widespread theory that many IOC members, up to a third, still hadn't made up their minds.
"No, no, I think the members come to the session with a very firm idea," he said. "I don't think there's a lot of change and I don't think many members are undecided."
Still, the final presentations before the vote could make a difference. Each city will get 45 minutes to state its case, combining speeches by bid leaders, political officials and athletes with emotive videos. Paris goes first, followed by New York, Moscow, London and Madrid.
"It's like going for an interview for a job," Rogge said. "You can send the best C.V., ultimately your boss will hire you because of what you can express, what you can say, your body language and the confidence you can exude. It is the same with the candidate cities."
The election procedure could cause surprises. Voting goes round by round until one city obtains a majority. A first-round win is considered unlikely. The city receiving the fewest votes drops out after each round, so the maximum would be four rounds.
Members from countries with a bid city don't vote as long as their candidate is in contention. That leaves 99 members eligible to vote in the first round. Once a city is eliminated, delegates from that country join the voting the rest of the way.
Much of the frenetic politicking by bid cities in recent days has been to line up support as a member's second or even third choice.
Moscow could benefit from a sympathy vote in the first round, which would put New York in possible jeopardy of immediate elimination. If New York gets through the early rounds, it could pick up steam if Europeans split their votes. Paris and London should get a large chunk of initial support, but it's unclear which will get the votes later on.