Frantic lobbying day before vote for 2018 Olympics

In a frantic final day of campaigning, the three cities vying

for the 2018 Winter Olympics lobbied for votes Tuesday in what

shapes up as a choice between the third-time Asian bid from South

Korea and the European challenger from Germany.

The International Olympic Committee will vote by secret ballot

Wednesday, choosing from among the Korean resort of Pyeongchang,

the Bavarian capital of Munich and the French lakeside town of

Annecy.

Pyeongchang, bidding for a third successive time after close

defeats for the 2010 and 2014 Games, remains the city to beat.

Munich, hoping to become first city to host both a Summer and

Winter Olympics, is pushing hard. Annecy is the outsider.

”I think it’s very close,” Australian IOC member John Coates

told The Associated Press. ”There are strong arguments for each of

the cities. Two of them have stronger arguments than the

third.”

For the IOC, the decision comes down to this: Is it time to

reward Pyeongchang’s persistence and send the Winter Olympics to a

new territory in Asia? Or is it time to reconnect with the Winter

Games’ European roots and go back to Germany for the first time in

80 years?

The IOC’s trend in recent votes has been to move the games to

new frontiers, taking the Winter Games to Russia (Sochi) for the

first time in 2014 and giving South America its first Olympics with

the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The Winter Games have been staged twice in Asia, both times in

Japan – Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998. Pyeongchang, whose

slogan is ”New Frontiers,” says it can spread the Olympics to a

lucrative new market in Asia and become a hub for winter sports in

the region.

”After the last two Olympic bids we learned and listened to the

IOC family and the members,” Pyeongchang bid leader Cho Yang-ho

said. ”The difference with this bid is seven out of the 13 venues

are complete, which means we are not just showing people the

drawing board. We are showing them physical venues.”

The persistence of the South Koreans in bidding three times over

a 10-year period could be crucial.

”History’s shown you do get rewarded,” Coates said, noting

that Australia bid three times before Sydney got the 2000 Olympics

and London landed the 2012 Games after several failed British

attempts.

Munich counters that the games need to go back to their

spiritual home in Europe and to a country with a history and

tradition of winter sports and big crowds.

It’s been nearly 80 years since Germany hosted the Winter Games

in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1936. Garmisch would stage snow events

in 2018, while Munich would use many of the facilities from the

1972 Summer Games for the ice competitions.

Munich officials believe they have picked up significant

momentum in recent weeks.

”People have realized that this is about the quality of bids,

not about the number of bids,” said Thomas Bach, an IOC vice

president and a senior leader of the Munich bid. ”It’s about the

timing – what do the games need in 2018? People have realized there

is a certain cycle and that this cycle speaks for Munich.”

The Annecy bid, which got off to a slow start and struggled

through budget problems and leadership changes, seeks to

distinguish itself from its two rivals by promising a simpler

”authentic” games in the heart of the French Alps.

”There is no big favorite or underdog,” bid leader Charles

Beigbeder said. ”It’s a three-horse race. We are doing everything

we can to win.”

On the last day before the vote, the three candidates pulled out

all the stops to promote their bids in this Indian Ocean port

city.

Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yu-na borrowed a pair of

skates and took a few turns on the ice with local youngsters at a

community rink to spread Pyeongchang’s message; German President

Christian Wulff and World Cup soccer great Franz Beckenbauer

arrived to bolster Munich’s bid; French Prime Minister Francois

Fillon turned up to pitch Annecy’s case.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has been in South Africa

since last weekend. All three political figures planned to meet

with individual IOC members as well as take part in the final

presentations Wednesday.

Bid officials cornered IOC members in hotel corridors, bars and

lobbies to hunt for votes.

”I feel like an athlete in the changing room,” Bach said,

summing up the mood among the three cities. ”We are waiting for

the door to open and the competition to start. We all feel just

like before an Olympic final. The training has gone well, and now

you want to go out and win.”

IOC votes for the Winter Games can be especially unpredictable,

with many members hailing from countries with little or no winter

sports tradition. Outside factors come more into play.

”There are only 85 counties that send athletes to the Winter

Games, so some of the IOC members can be purely altruistic in

this,” Coates said. ”Rather than focusing on athletes that they

don’t have, they may focus on what they might want to do.”

On Wednesday, each city will have 45 minutes for its

presentation, followed by 15 minutes for questions and answers.

Munich will go first, followed by Annecy and Pyeongchang.

The IOC will then proceed to a secret ballot, with a majority of

votes required for victory. Ninety-six members will be eligible to

vote in the first round, with 49 votes needed to win. If no

majority is reached, the city with the fewest votes is eliminated,

and a second and final round would be held.

There has been speculation of a possible first-round win for

Pyeongchang, which led in each of the first rounds in the votes for

the 2010 and 2014 games but then lost in the final rounds to

Vancouver and Sochi.

The wild-card factor could be how many sympathy votes Annecy

receives in the first round.

AP Sports Writer Gerald Imray contributed to this report.

Stephen Wilson can be reached at

http://twitter.com/stevewilsonap