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Olympics: Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia Await Decision On 2014 Bid

Children demonstrating in support of Sochi's Olympic bid in March (official site) WASHINGTON, June 21, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Of the seven cities that have submitted a bid to host the 2014 Olympic Games, at least three will receive disappointing news tomorrow.

That's when the IOC will narrow the field of seven candidate cities to the three or four it has judged worthy of potentially hosting the 22nd modern Winter Olympics. IOC President Jacques Rogge will make the announcement at the committee's headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Four of the candidates are veterans of this process. Salzburg, Austria -- considered the leading candidate -- and Pyeong Chang, South Korea, each made a bid for the 2010 Winter Games, but narrowly lost to Vancouver, Canada. This is also the third try for Jaca, Spain, and Sofia, Bulgaria.

Making The Short List

The three cities bidding for the first time are Sochi, Russia; Almaty, Kazakhstan; and Borjomi, Georgia. Of the three, observers who follow the bidding process closely say Sochi has the best chance of making it into the finals. If the committee decides to choose four finalists, Almaty has a good chance of taking the fourth spot, many say. Borjomi is considered to face the longest odds.

A spokesperson in the IOC press office said there is no rule on how many cities can end up on the IOC's short list. For the 2012 Games, nine candidates were narrowed to five; for 2010, seven were reduced to four.

The June 22 decision is the second stage in the IOC’s decision-making process to choose the host of the 2014 Winter Games. The first step is accepting an official bid from countries whose national Olympic committee submits a candidate as a bid city. If a city makes it through the preliminary elimination, it will become an official candidate.

The IOC’s evaluation committee will spend several days in each candidate city over the next year, weighing everything from the condition of its roads to the amount of public support for the Games.

Support For Sochi

Ed Hula, editor of the Olympic news service, (ATR) gives Sochi favorable odds to make it into the final round in his most recent "2014 Power Ranking Index.” Speaking from Lausanne, where he is covering the IOC meeting, Hula told RFE/RL that Salzburg and Pyeong Chang are almost certain to take the top two spots, but the Sochi bid has impressed the judges.

"There is substantial government support: a $12 billion federal program that's been targeted for Sochi, for the development of the venues and infrastructure that they need for the Winter Olympics," Hula said. "That kind of determination, that kind of political support, is really important for an Olympic bid, and an Olympic bid such as Sochi's, who's really coming up from ground zero."

If Sochi's name is called, it is likely that few people outside the Olympic world will have heard of it. But this Black Sea "City For All Seasons" -- as its official Olympic bid website calls it -- is a hugely popular vacation resort for Russians, including President Vladimir Putin, who has an official residence there. The Alpine sports center of Krasnaya Polyana is an hour’s drive away.

Georgia's Dark Horse

Hula gives Borjomi, Georgia's candidate, almost no chance of advancing because, he says, it lacks the necessary infrastructure and experience hosting large sporting events.

A ski resort in Borjomi (official site)

"Of the three, Borjomi has to do the most," Hula said. "The bid from Borjomi is what we call a developmental bid. If they got the Winter Olympics, really, a whole world would be created in Borjomi and neighboring villages to create the infrastructure, the venues, needed for the Olympic Games. There's a lot of work to do to build the roads needed to access Borjomi. There are a number of events scheduled in the capital city of Tbilisi, which makes it something of a logistical challenge for the Borjomi bid."

In its official bid, Borjomi touted Georgia's attributes -- its winemaking industry, ties to the ancient Greeks, and cultural diversity -- but admitted that one of its main reasons for wanting to host an Olympics was the desire to "accelerate the economic and social development" of the country.

Rob Livingstone, who follows Olympic bidding for, says Borjomi had good reasons for going through the expensive, labor-intensive process of applying, despite its slim chance of succeeding.

"Often, cities will do a bid campaign more as a marketing campaign, trying to get their name out there, trying to get noticed that they're a winter sports location, possibly promote tourism, promote investment that kind of thing," Livingstone said. "So although they might not seriously believe they have an opportunity this time around, they're looking to build the infrastructure, build their name, and perhaps bid again in the future but at least be considered as a winter sports city."

Kazakhstan Could Surprise

The wild card among the three first-time bid cities is Almaty. The oil-rich city, Kazakhstan's largest, possesses an enviable geographic location: it is ringed by the Tien Shan Mountains, which form a natural amphitheater around the city. The IOC, according to Hula, likes the fact that all the sporting events would be less than an hour from each other in this compact setting. And as host of the 2011 Asian Winter Games, Almaty has already built some world-class sports venues.

If the final list of candidate cities includes Salzburg, Sochi, and Pyeong Chang, as expected, Livingstone says Almaty might be added as a fourth to balance out the roster: two European and two Asian finalists.

“A lot of people have mentioned that Almaty might be considered for political reasons, to give them a chance to be on the short list, so that fourth position, if there is one -- and there's no guarantee as to the number of positions that there will be -- that fourth position is sort of up for grabs right now," Livingstone said.

The winning city will be announced on July 7, 2007, in Guatemala City during the IOC’s 119th session.

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