On Thursday, the International Olympic Committee will decide in Monte Carlo on the host of the 2000 Summer Olympics. This story looks at the contenders.
As capital of the most populous nation and a rising international sports power, Beijing's bid for the 2000 Olympics is considered among the strongest.
"We are optimistic," said He Zhenliang, a vice president of the International Olympic Committee who also serves on the Beijing bid committee. "We also know that we still have many things to improve and we will improve them."
China plans to upgrade its existing sports facilities and building new ones, including a 100,000-seat Olympic Stadium. It also has outlined measures to clean up Beijing's heavily polluted air and to modernize its telecommunications systems.
China's human rights record has emerged as a major stumbling block for the bid. On Monday, China released its most famous political prisoner--Wei Jingsheng--in an apparent effort to improve its chances of winning the Games.
International Olympic Committee delegates will have to decide whether a government that imprisons thousands of dissidents and is accused of widespread torture deserves to be the host for the Games. Another factor is whether pro-democracy protests similar to those in China in 1989 could reappear in the run-up to the 2000 Olympics.
China deflects criticism by noting that one-fifth of the world's population lives within its borders, a huge potential market attractive to sponsors.
The amazing performance of China's women runners--a sweep of long-distance events at the World Championships and three world records in five days at the National Games--could help Beijing's bid by highlighting the quick rise of the nation as a sports superpower. However, the records have also raised suspicion of drug use.
The blitz to win the Games has included decorating Beijing streets with countless Olympic banners and billboards, and promising IOC members that their names will be inscribed on a monument at the Great Wall if the bid is successful.
Sydney: The Self-Styled 'Athletes' Choice'
SYDNEY--Australia's oldest and most populous city hopes its natural beauty, a long association with the Olympic movement, and a near faultless technical bid will win it the 2000 Games.
Sydney was the site of the first European settlement in 1788. Now the harbor city has 3.7 million people.
Officials here describe their bid as the "athletes' choice" while Beijing is the "political choice."
"There isn't any doubt that Sydney and Beijing are the front-runners," said Rod McGeoch, the chief executive of the city's bid.
In July, the International Olympic Committee's Enquiry Commission gave top marks to Sydney's technical plans.
Major sporting organizations affiliated with the IOC have also applauded the bid. About 70% of Sydney's games facilities are completed or nearly completed.
Competitors in 14 sports would be able to walk from a proposed village to their venues.
The main site in the suburb of Homebush, once the home of the meat-packing industry and other factories, is being transformed in line with a program endorsed by the environmental group Greenpeace.
Opinion polls show most Sydney residents want the Games. The bid is also supported by all political parties, trade unions and indigenous aboriginal groups.
Australia is one of a handful of countries which has competed in every Olympics since the modern Games started in 1896.
In that time only one other Southern Hemisphere city has hosted an Olympics. That was the Australian city of Melbourne in 1956.
Manchester: A Stronger Bid Second Time Around
MANCHESTER, England--Last time around, Manchester's Olympic bid was doomed by the indifference of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. This time, Manchester's chances have been lifted by the support of Prime Minister John Major.
Of the five cities vying for the 2000 Games, Manchester is the only one bidding for a second straight time. The circumstances have changed dramatically since Manchester was soundly beaten in the vote for the 1996 Olympics.
While Thatcher's government barely acknowledged the 1996 bid, Major has offered $112 million to the current effort and has pledged to underwrite the cost of staging the Games.
Major himself will head Manchester's delegation in Monte Carlo for the Sept. 23 vote by the International Olympic Committee. He will be accompanied by British sprinter Linford Christie, the world and Olympic champion at 100 meters.
"This time, I think we have a chance. There's been a gathering of strength behind the bid," said Bob Scott, the energetic chairman of the Manchester bid.
Scott, who has hosted visits by 79 of the 91 IOC members, believes Manchester has joined Sydney and Beijing as one of the favorites.
"We are a candidate on the move," he said. "I think people see Manchester as a risk-free choice. Maybe we left it too late, that's the danger. But I think we're in good shape."
The bid emphasizes a compact concept (15 of 25 venues located in the city center), Manchester's accessible location (within six hours' flying time of much of the world) and Britain's rich sporting tradition.
The IOC's technical evaluation report gave good marks to Manchester, with special praise for Britain's leadership in telecommunications and broadcasting.
Perhaps Manchester's biggest drawback has been its image as a grim, rainy industrial city.
"We've had to climb a mountain because of our image problems," Scott said. "We're not as glamorous as Sydney. But we've moved to a more credible position without a doubt."
From Favorite to Longshot, Berlin Still Hopes
BERLIN--When Berlin entered the bidding, it seemed a virtual sure bet to stage the 2000 Olympics. It hasn't worked out that way.
The idea to bid for the Games came from Ronald Reagan, who visited the city as the U.S. president in 1987 and challenged the Soviets to tear down the Berlin Wall. He also suggested East and West Berlin should jointly stage the Olympics.
West Berlin officials seized on the idea, although Communist East Germany spurned the proposal.
When the wall came down nearly four years ago, Berlin looked like the natural place to hold the Games for the second time.
Germans were eager to erase the negative images of their past Olympics: the use of the 1936 Berlin Games by Adolf Hitler to advance Nazi propaganda, and the massacre of Israeli athletes by terrorists at the 1972 Munich Games.
Though Berlin started out as the favorite for the 2000 Games, the bid soon ran into problems. A financial scandal led to a reshuffle of top officials. Newspapers revealed how Berlin officials compiled confidential files on private lives of IOC members.
Anti-Olympic militants mounted an often-violent campaign against the Games, torching cars and staging demonstrations during IOC visits.
In addition, the government gave only lukewarm support to the Olympic bid.
Abroad, there is concern about the neo-Nazi groups attacking foreigners.
Still, Berlin officials believe the city could edge the four rivals. The yellow smiling bear, the symbol of Berlin's bid, has taken over the city.
The bid received a boost when IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch visited Berlin last month and said, "When the Germans want something, they get it."
Istanbul: The City Spanning Two Continents
ISTANBUL--Organizers of Istanbul's bid for the 2000 Olympics are pinning their hopes on Turkey's geographical position at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.
"Let's Meet Where the Continents Meet," is Istanbul's slogan. It's plastered all over the city--on buses, streetcars and billboards.
The bid organizers say they believe this bustling metropolis of 8 million people would be the ideal location for the Millennium Games. If Istanbul is chosen, Turkey will be the first Muslim country to stage the Games.
Although Istanbul is considered a longshot, bid officials remain upbeat.
"Istanbul has a good chance," said Sinan Erdem, a member of the Turkish National Olympic Committee. "The IOC Inquiry Committee gave Istanbul a good grade (in April). . . . Now we are preparing for the IOC vote on Sept. 23."
The government has fully supported the bid and even passed an "Olympic law" giving the organizing committee the power to undertake all projects necessary for the Games. The law also provides the committee with guaranteed revenues and free acquisition of state-owned land and establishes legal protection of Olympic emblems and trademarks.