The International Olympic Committee set the stage Friday for the July election of the 2010 Winter Olympics host with a report declaring that each of the three candidates -- Vancouver, Canada; Salzburg, Austria; and Pyeongchang, South Korea -- could put on “very good” Games.
The report, issued by an IOC team that earlier this year visited each of the three cities, did not proclaim any the front-runner. But by listing Pyeongchang as an equal of Vancouver and Salzburg, the report strongly indicated that this is a three-way race.
“Vancouver and Salzburg are well-known cities already. Pyeongchang is not so well known,” Kim Jinsun, governor of Gangwon province, where Pyeongchang is located, said in a telephone interview. But in terms of “ability to organize the Olympic Winter Games, the cities are on equal footing.”
Observed Egon Winkler, head of the Salzburg bid, “One thing is for sure. There are three equal candidates -- not two and a weaker one.”
The report issued Friday is roughly akin to the backstage goings-on at the Miss America contest. Each contestant has to pass certain essential criteria before taking to the runway under the TV lights for the swimsuit and talent competitions -- which, in the IOC selection process, means the geopolitical, cultural, historical and interpersonal dynamics that determine the winner.
The report measured each of the three cities on such “technical” issues as finance, transport and security.
The IOC will pick the 2010 site July 2 at an all-delegates meeting in Prague, Czech Republic. The 2010 race is likely to go far in shaping the race for the 2012 Summer Games. New York is the U.S. candidate for those Games. Madrid, Moscow and Havana are also in the field, with perhaps London, Paris and Toronto yet to declare. A Vancouver win rules out Toronto and might well preempt New York. Some, however, suggest Vancouver and New York could complement each other. The IOC will pick the 2012 site in 2005.
In the report issued Friday, the IOC’s evaluation commission, headed by Norwegian Gerhard Heiberg, took special note that the Games “could contribute to reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.” Officials in South and North Korea in recent days have said the two nations would consider working together to put on the Games.
The Pyeongchang bid is driven by the Gangwon provincial government, and the IOC in recent years has shown a preference for heavy governmental involvement. Eight of the 13 venues needed for the Games would have to be built. Capital costs are estimated at more than $3 billion.
The Winter Games have been held only twice in Asia -- in Japan in 1972 and 1988. But the 2008 Summer Games will be held in Beijing.
Austria hasn’t staged the Winter Games since 1976, in Innsbruck. But the 2004 Summer Games and 2006 Winter Olympics will be held in Europe -- in Athens in 2004, and in Turin, Italy, in 2006. The IOC prefers to rotate the Games around continents, which would seem to work against Salzburg. The IOC, however, is dominated by Europeans, which ought to work in Salzburg’s favor.
Salzburg’s ready advantage is that some of the best winter venues in the world -- among them the famed downhill skiing course at nearby Kitzbuehel -- are already in place. It has floated the novel idea of building a temporary stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies over the shallow Salzach River in central Salzburg.
The Vancouver proposal also calls for something new: The opening and closing ceremonies for the first time would be indoors, in a 55,000-seat arena.
All involved concur that the combination of sea and sky in British Columbia can be breathtaking, that by 2010 the Games ought by geographical rotation to be due back in North America and that staging the Games in Vancouver fits the recent pattern of awarding the Winter Games to big cities instead of winter hamlets -- as in the examples of Turin and Salt Lake, host of the 2002 Games.
The central “technical” issue in Vancouver all along has been the distance between the town and the mountain events in Whistler, 90 to 120 minutes away. On the visit there in March, Heiberg said it was “too far.” The report said the distance “could be a challenge” but declared the commission was “confident that Olympic transport requirements can be met.”
Jack Poole, chairman and chief executive of the Vancouver bid, said of transport concerns, “If it ever was an issue, it’s not an issue anymore. It’s behind us.”
Asked in a conference call if Vancouver ought to be considered the front-runner, he replied, “I would be surprised if each candidate city didn’t somehow think it was the front-runner. That’s what keeps each of us in the race.”