OLYMPICS 2012 Final decision nearing for cities

Paris is the favorite to earn the bid on Wednesday.
SINGAPORE (AP) -- Fast forward seven years from now. Picture the possible scenes:
Beach volleyball at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. Tennis at Wimbledon. Basketball at Madison Square Garden. Soccer at Madrid's Bernabeu stadium. Gymnastics a short hop from the Kremlin.
It's the ultimate global beauty pageant, with five of the world's iconic cities -- Paris, London, New York, Madrid and Moscow -- vying for the right to host the 2012 Summer Olympics.
After a two-year campaign, the most glamorous bid contest in Olympic history comes to a climactic vote Wednesday in a convention hall in Singapore.
International prestige
At stake is international prestige, billions of dollars in investment and economic spinoffs, and the honor of staging the world's biggest sports festival.
Paris, the longtime front-runner, goes in as the favorite, with London regarded as the main challenger. But anything could happen in secret balloting by the International Olympic Committee.
"For probably the first time in the history of the Olympic movement, the IOC is presented with a list of cities all of whom are capable of hosting excellent Olympic Games," IOC president Jacques Rogge said Thursday.
"So, on the one hand, you can say that the IOC is in a very fortunate position. On the other hand, it makes the choice arguably more difficult than ever."
Still undecided votes
The bid cities believe a significant number of IOC members remain undecided. Much could depend on the candidates' final presentations to the IOC and the order in which cities are eliminated in the round-by-round balloting.
"If I were betting on it, I'd say it's theirs to lose," Canadian IOC member Dick Pound said of Paris. "It would be London's to win. It depends who's the best on the day."
British bookmakers list the French capital as an overwhelming 1-6 favorite, followed by London at 7-2. Madrid and New York are rated as outsiders and Moscow a long shot.
"I think it would be very surprising if Paris doesn't win," said John MacAloon, a University of Chicago professor and Olympic historian. "There seems to be a real bandwagon at this point. It seems to me it's pretty much a done deal. It's hard to imagine a disaster that could knock Paris off track."
But Gerhard Heiberg, an IOC executive board member from Norway and co-organizer of the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, isn't so certain.
"I'm not convinced that Paris is front-runner any more," he said. "Some months ago I felt that, but today I'm not so sure any more."
11th-hour upheaval
New York's bid underwent an 11th-hour upheaval after state officials rejected a proposed showpiece $2 billion Olympic stadium on Manhattan's West Side. New York quickly came up with an alternative plan to use a $600 million stadium in the less-fashionable borough of Queens that eventually would replace Shea Stadium as the home of the Mets.
"I think we have regained momentum," New York bid leader and deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff said this week. "I'm very optimistic going in to Singapore. ... People recognize that when tested, we will always find a way. We faced the toughest test you could possibly face and responded with an excellent plan within three days."
Rogge, who will open a sealed envelope to announce the winner in a live televised ceremony, has said the race could be decided by half a dozen votes or so among the 100-plus eligible members.
While some members may vote on the technical merits of the bids, others may make their choice based on emotion, sentiment, geography, politics or self-interest.
Carrying weight
The final 45-minute presentations on Wednesday -- featuring emotive videos -- should carry more weight than usual because members were barred from visiting the bid cities under ethics rules enacted after the Salt Lake City scandal. Conventional wisdom says cities stand to lose more from a poor presentation than gain from a strong one.
The cities are leaving nothing to chance, bringing a glitzy array of political leaders, athletes and celebrities to this Asian city-state to pitch their case.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and England soccer captain David Beckham will be lobbying for London; French President Jacques Chirac for Paris; Spain's Queen Sofia and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero for Madrid; Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Muhammad Ali and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for New York, and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov for Moscow.
About 3,500 people have been accredited for the Olympic gathering at the Raffles City Convention Center. More than 2,000 armed police, military and civil defense officers will be on security duty.
The dynamics of this bid competition are sharply different from the two most recent summer Olympic races. Athens won the 2004 Games because of strong sentiment in favor of bringing the Olympics back to their birthplace, while Beijing was selected for 2008 out of a political will to take the games for the first time to the world's most populous nation.
No such defining factors are at play this time.

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