DURBAN, South Africa – In a frantic final day of campaigning, the three cities vying for the 2018 Winter Olympics lobbied for votes Tuesday in what shapes up as a choice between the third-time Asian bid from South Korea and the European challenger from Germany.
The International Olympic Committee will vote by secret ballot Wednesday, choosing from among the Korean resort of Pyeongchang, the Bavarian capital of Munich and the French lakeside town of Annecy.
Pyeongchang, bidding for a third successive time after close defeats for the 2010 and 2014 Games, remains the city to beat. Munich, hoping to become first city to host both a Summer and Winter Olympics, is pushing hard. Annecy is the outsider.
"I think it's very close," Australian IOC member John Coates told The Associated Press. "There are strong arguments for each of the cities. Two of them have stronger arguments than the third."
For the IOC, the decision comes down to this: Is it time to reward Pyeongchang's persistence and send the Winter Olympics to a new territory in Asia? Or is it time to reconnect with the Winter Games' European roots and go back to Germany for the first time in 80 years?
The IOC's trend in recent votes has been to move the games to new frontiers, taking the Winter Games to Russia (Sochi) for the first time in 2014 and giving South America its first Olympics with the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The Winter Games have been staged twice in Asia, both times in Japan — Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998. Pyeongchang, whose slogan is "New Frontiers," says it can spread the Olympics to a lucrative new market in Asia and become a hub for winter sports in the region.
"After the last two Olympic bids we learned and listened to the IOC family and the members," Pyeongchang bid leader Cho Yang-ho said. "The difference with this bid is seven out of the 13 venues are complete, which means we are not just showing people the drawing board. We are showing them physical venues."
The persistence of the South Koreans in bidding three times over a 10-year period could be crucial.
Munich counters that the games need to go back to their spiritual home in Europe and to a country with a history and tradition of winter sports and big crowds.
It's been nearly 80 years since Germany hosted the Winter Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1936. Garmisch would stage snow events in 2018, while Munich would use many of the facilities from the 1972 Summer Games for the ice competitions.
Munich officials believe they have picked up significant momentum in recent weeks.
"People have realized that this is about the quality of bids, not about the number of bids," said Thomas Bach, an IOC vice president and a senior leader of the Munich bid. "It's about the timing — what do the games need in 2018? People have realized there is a certain cycle and that this cycle speaks for Munich."
The Annecy bid, which got off to a slow start and struggled through budget problems and leadership changes, seeks to distinguish itself from its two rivals by promising a simpler "authentic" games in the heart of the French Alps.
"There is no big favorite or underdog," bid leader Charles Beigbeder said. "It's a three-horse race. We are doing everything we can to win."
On the last day before the vote, the three candidates pulled out all the stops to promote their bids in this Indian Ocean port city.
Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yu-na borrowed a pair of skates and took a few turns on the ice with local youngsters at a community rink to spread Pyeongchang's message; German President Christian Wulff and World Cup soccer great Franz Beckenbauer arrived to bolster Munich's bid; French Prime Minister Francois Fillon turned up to pitch Annecy's case.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has been in South Africa since last weekend. All three political figures planned to meet with individual IOC members as well as take part in the final presentations Wednesday.
Bid officials cornered IOC members in hotel corridors, bars and lobbies to hunt for votes.
"I feel like an athlete in the changing room," Bach said, summing up the mood among the three cities. "We are waiting for the door to open and the competition to start. We all feel just like before an Olympic final. The training has gone well, and now you want to go out and win."
IOC votes for the Winter Games can be especially unpredictable, with many members hailing from countries with little or no winter sports tradition. Outside factors come more into play.
"There are only 85 counties that send athletes to the Winter Games, so some of the IOC members can be purely altruistic in this," Coates said. "Rather than focusing on athletes that they don't have, they may focus on what they might want to do."
On Wednesday, each city will have 45 minutes for its presentation, followed by 15 minutes for questions and answers. Munich will go first, followed by Annecy and Pyeongchang.
The IOC will then proceed to a secret ballot, with a majority of votes required for victory. Ninety-six members will be eligible to vote in the first round, with 49 votes needed to win. If no majority is reached, the city with the fewest votes is eliminated, and a second and final round would be held.
There has been speculation of a possible first-round win for Pyeongchang, which led in each of the first rounds in the votes for the 2010 and 2014 games but then lost in the final rounds to Vancouver and Sochi.
The wild-card factor could be how many sympathy votes Annecy receives in the first round.
AP Sports Writer Gerald Imray contributed to this report.
Stephen Wilson can be reached at http://twitter.com/stevewilsonap