Olympicvote due today

A close vote is expected to determine the host city for the 2014 Winter Games.

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala (AP) — Reward Russia with its first Winter Olympics? Take the games to a new Asian market in South Korea? Or return to the Austrian Alps for the first time in nearly 40 years?

That’s the choice facing the International Olympic Committee today in the closely contested vote for the host city of the 2014 Winter Games.

Amid frantic lobbying in the final hours of the campaign, the race was too tight to call between Sochi, Russia; Pyeongchang, South Korea, and Salzburg, Austria.

“I think they are very close,” IOC president Jacques Rogge said Tuesday. “I think 4-5 votes will make the difference.”

In a sign of the high stakes and national prestige involved, Russian president Vladimir Putin, South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun and Austrian chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer are pushing the bids in Guatemala and will feature in the final presentations to the IOC assembly.

It’s the first time in Olympic bidding history that each of the candidate cities has been represented in person by its head of state or government.

“Russia has made an enormous contribution to the development of the Olympic movement and winter sports, but it has never had an honor to host Winter Olympic Games,” Putin said.

Russian-Korean bids possible

Salzburg seems the most vulnerable of going out in the first round of voting, which would set up a head-to-head final between the Russian and Korean bids. But the secret vote is highly unpredictable, and many members may be influenced by the presentations.

“Each of the three cities could stage perfect games,” Rogge said, stopping briefly in a hotel lobby packed with IOC members and bid city officials. “As usual the decision will be made on the basis of the file and the human factor — the trust that the members have in the bid committee to put on great games.”

The contest pits Salzburg, renowned for its experience and tradition of winter sports in the heart of Europe, against the more unknown quantities of Sochi — a summer and winter resort on the Black Sea — and Pyeongchang, a growing winter sports center in Korea’s divided Gangwon province.

“I don’t sense a ground swell for one or the other,” American IOC member Jim Easton said. “I think it’s going to be a really tight vote. It’s going to boil down to some political [factors]. What is going to be the best for the Olympic movement in the long run?”

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