Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Struggling Olympic Winter Bids Look To London 2012 For Inspiration

As the IOC site evaluation visits to potential 2014 Olympic hosts draws closer, the bid race seems to be tightening.

With a history full of unpredictability and surprises, the Winter Olympic bid dynamic is not an easy one to understand, and the value of any small advantage is that it can reap huge rewards – especially if you consider that a mere two-vote swing would have resulted in a different winner in the last two Olympic bids.

So what’s a bid to do? It seems they're looking to past winning bids, especially London 2012, for tips - and are following by example.

Sochi, the only current contender that wasn't a finalist last time around, came into this race an underdog. But with nothing to lose and much to gain the team has been very aggressive and have somehow formulated an inspirational Winter Games plan modeled after London's winning Summer Games plan. By creating a massive Olympic park, organizers will ensure that many of the sports venues will be just a stone's throw from the Athletes' Village and the Medals Plaza - just the way everyone likes it. London's winning concept was very similar, and will help revitalize the City's East End and leave a valuable legacy.

But Sochi isn't denying this coincidence. To the contrary, the bid committee chose to unveil their plans right in London just to drive home the point that their bid is backed by winners.

Additionally, the Russian city's bid committee will be sending President Valdimir Putin to the July election in Guatemala to help lobby the IOC members just as Prime Minister Tony Blair did for London at their last mile. It is widely believed that dinner and drinks with IOC members helped Blair swing two or three votes - just enough to put London over the top.

Salzburg's bid came into the race as a soft favourite, but nobody, especially the bid team, could have predicted the rise of Sochi and continued determination of the bid from 2010 runner-up, PyeongChang.

Some of the deficiencies identified by the IOC in Salzburg's proposal have been rectified - and the strong qualities of the bid remain - but the apparent lead seems to be eroding without anything compelling enough happening to stop it. Unless it has already happened in disguise.

Last week Salzburg announce the resignation of bid CEO Fedor Radmann due to reported health problems and amid rumours of a conflict of interest involving a connection with a Sochi sponsor. The bid team responded quickly by appointing Olympic Downhill Champion, national hero and skiing legend Franz Klammer as Chairman International in the interim while a new CEO is found.

Flashback to 2004, the pre-election days of London's 2012 bid when American Barbara Cassani stepped down to allow national hero and Olympic Champion Seb Coe to take over the reigns. At the time, London's bid seemed to be in disarray, often critisized to be hopelessly trailing the favourite bid from Paris. This move, by all accounts, was the clear turning point in the entire 2012 campaign that rerouted London to eventual victory. It seems Olympic heros are the right people to lead Olympic bids, and maybe Salzburg officials were paying attention.

So what about PyeongChang?

Last time around PyeongChang was more like Sochi is this time - an underdog with nothing to lose. The bid was aggressive, took chances and offered lots of surprises. Now the Korean bid finds itself in a precarious situation - since coming in a very close second to Vancouver for 2010, PyeongChang is the de facto bid to beat

In a similar position as Paris while bidding for 2012 (the best remaining candidate from the previous bid), PyeongChang seems to be playing it a bit cautiously - just as Paris did. This is not a comfortable situation for the normally aggressive Koreans who came up with surprise after surprise during their previous campaign, a style that suits them.

But in this intense race it seems that PyeongChang may be getting back into old form. Just last week they announced a partnership with Samsung, the same company that helped them in the final stretch for the 2010 Games.

For 2014, we now have a race with no clear favourite. Any bid can win.

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