Originally created 01/17/04

Bid cities kick off 2012 race with ceremonies



LONDON -- Tony Blair lobbied for London at the Royal Opera House. Paris showed off its plans at the Eiffel Tower. Spain's prime minister launched Madrid's campaign at his palace.

From wintry Moscow to tropical Rio de Janeiro, the race for the 2012 Olympics got under way Friday with the nine bid cities unveiling plans for hosting the world's biggest sports festival.

With the IOC selection of the host city 18 months away, the presentations were mainly intended to rally support in what shapes up as the most glamorous Olympic race in history.

Paris and London are considered the favorites, with Madrid, New York and Rio strong candidates. The others are Havana; Istanbul, Turkey; Leipzig, Germany; and Moscow.

All nine cities submitted preliminary documents to the International Olympic Committee by Thursday's deadline.

In May, the IOC executive board will decide whether to accept all nine as official bid cities or trim the field. The full IOC will select the host city in July 2005 in Singapore.

Friday's glitziest ceremony was at Covent Garden in London, where Blair declared "100 percent support" for the bid to bring the Olympics back to Britain for the first time since 1948.

"I hope they give us the chance to host the world's most special sporting event here in the world's greatest capital city," Blair said. "If they do that, I know we won't let them down."

Some of London's most famous sports venues and tourist landmarks would be a part of the Olympics.

Tennis would be at Wimbledon, the soccer finals at a new Wembley stadium, archery at Lord's cricket ground, triathlon and road cycling in Hyde Park, baseball and softball in Regent's Park and beach volleyball at the Horse Guards Parade.

The bid is centered on a proposed main Olympic complex - including a new 80,000-seat stadium - on regenerated land in Stratford, east London. Bid leaders said 17 of the 28 sports venues would be within 15 minutes of the athletes' village.

"Compact games are what the IOC wants and this is exactly what this bid delivers," said Barbara Cassani, the American businesswoman who heads the London bid.

Paris, considered the city to beat, cited its successful hosting of the 1998 World Cup and last year's world track and field championships.

"We have the know-how of how to organize things on a large scale," France's sports minister Jean-Francois Lamour, a former Olympic fencing champion, said on the Eiffel Tower's first floor.

In Madrid, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar gave his full support for the campaign to bring the Olympics to Spain just 20 years after the games in Barcelona.

"Madrid will be in the summer of 2012 the window from which all the world can see the amazing transformation taking place in Spain in the last decades," Aznar said at the Moncloa Palace.

In Russia, officials unveiled their "Olympic River" concept based on venues along the Moscow River, historically the main artery of the 12th century city. Russia first participated in the Olympics at the Stockholm Games in 1912.

In Leipzig, whose bid has been plagued by internal problems, German officials highlighted its concept of small-scale games concentrated downtown.

In Istanbul, making its fourth straight Olympic bid, officials said staging the games in Turkey could help bridge East and West and contribute to world peace.