Wednesday, March 09, 2005

For 2012 Games, I.O.C. Will Always Have Paris

Subject: J'aime Paris en été en 2012 (apologies to Cole Porter)
Date: 3/8/2005 11:02:56 PM Eastern Standard Time
Sent from the Internet (Details)

For 2012 Games, I.O.C. Will Always Have Paris

Published: March 9, 2005

rom the 22nd floor of a retirement home, with a sweeping view of a rundown section of east London, the International Olympic Committee's evaluation commission was asked to envision an Olympic park that would include a new stadium, various arenas and fields, and an athletes' village, all ready to spring from the grime and poverty that stretched below.


A week later, from the 14th floor of a building on New York's West 26th Street, the commission took in a panoramic view of an open railyard and an expanse of the underdeveloped Far West Side while the leaders of New York's bid painted a vision of a stadium with a retractable roof, parks, pedestrian boulevards and a new neighborhood radiating from all sides.

But as the 13 members of the evaluation commission assess Paris this week on their tour of the cities that are finalists for the 2012 Games, no such flights of imagination will be necessary. The Parisians will present a finished stadium, the Stade de France, that successfully held the final of one of the world's most important international sporting events, the 1998 World Cup. Their plan includes only eight permanent construction projects, and only the athletes' village involves a development more complicated than a single building.

This lies at the center of the I.O.C.'s choice of the 2012 Olympic city, to be made on July 6 at a meeting in Singapore. Paris, long considered the front-runner, seems to be the safe choice, the city with less to transform in the name of the Games, and it could cement its favored status with a flawless visit this week. New York and London, its main challengers, have aimed to position themselves as the visionary choices.

"I think it's the job of every bid to leave the evaluation team with two very clear answers to two very clear questions: why and how?" Sebastian Coe, the chairman of London's bid, said in a telephone interview.

The commission begins its evaluation of Paris today, after having made stops in Madrid, London and New York. The commission will tour the final city, Moscow, next week, a visit that coincides with the world figure skating championships.

It is focusing on the technical aspects of each bid, with a heavy emphasis on saving the I.O.C. the stress of its experience with Athens, when dragged-out preparations turned into a mad sprint to be ready for the opening ceremony last August.

So, while New York and London require mental pictures, computer renderings and a belief that urban transformation would leave both cities and the Olympic movement with rich legacies, Paris's simplicity has become its greatest strength.

Back for a third bid in the past 20 years after losing the 1992 race to Barcelona, Spain, and 2008 to Beijing, Paris draws no questions about its commitment to the Games. Its motto L'Amour des Jeux translates roughly to Love of the Games. Its infrastructure draws few concerns. Its Metro needs no overhaul. Its construction plan is minimalist, relying on 13 temporary facilities including ones to play host to basketball and baseball. And the Stade de France, which has also held the world track and field championships, speaks for itself.

"We have had time," Philippe Baudillon, Paris's bid leader, said in a telephone interview. "Working for 20 years allows us a little more time to understand what we need for the organization of the Games."

It is also a reason why Paris intends to take a more low key approach toward the evaluation team, which has been treated to lavish dinners with royalty in Madrid and London, and received star treatment in a New York draped in Olympic banners and dinner with celebrity guests.

Paris is responding with a dinner with President Jacques Chirac and the mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, and has festooned itself in Paris 2012 paraphernalia, including five million baguettes swathed in bid-sponsored wrappers.

But the bid is guided by people who have been through this process before and understand that ceremony goes only so far.

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For 2012 Games, I.O.C. Will Always Have Paris

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