By Paul Radford
DURBAN (Reuters) - The Korean city of Pyeongchang has just one more day of an anxious wait to discover whether it will celebrate becoming host of the 2018 Winter Olympics or rue being pipped at the post for the third time in a row.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will decide on the first day of its annual session on Wednesday whether to award the Games to Pyeongchang or to one of its two European rivals, Annecy of France or Germany's Munich.
The South Koreans go into the home straight as favorites but they have come agonizingly close twice before, only to be overtaken at the final hurdle.
Eight years ago, Pyeongchang surprisingly garnered 51 votes in the first round of voting to lead clearly from favorites Vancouver, which had 40, with third candidate Salzburg from Austria collecting only 16.
But candidates have to have a clear majority and after Salzburg's elimination, most of its votes went to Vancouver which won the right to stage the 2010 Olympics on a 56-53 vote in the second round.
Four years ago as favorites against Salzburg and the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, Pyeongchang won the first round again, picking up 36 votes to 34 for the Russians and 25 to the Austrians.
But again Salzburg's votes swung mainly to Pyeongchang's rivals and the Koreans lost the second round by 51-47 as Sochi was awarded the 2014 Games.
The three candidates are making their final pitches to win votes as IOC members gather in the South African port of Durban to make their choice.
Almost everyone privately concedes or accepts that Pyeongchang should lead after the first round for a third time. But with Munich expected to come second, the Koreans have to fear they will once again fail to get an overall majority and that Annecy's votes will then swing to fellow-Europeans Munich.
There has been little sign that voting intentions have changed much in the final days of the campaign though members traditionally keep their cards close to their chests, making accurate forecasting as firm as powder snow.
Most observers are speculating on a scenario in which Pyeongchang would get up to 50 first round votes, Munich around 30-35 and Annecy from 12 to 15.
It may well be touch-and-go, a matter of two or three votes, whether Pyeongchang has enough to win the first round outright. If the voting goes to a second round, the Koreans will inevitably fear the worst.
Publicly, it is not just Pyeongchang delegates who want to avoid talking about first round numbers. Munich knows its only chance is to make it through to a second round and Annecy is afraid of failing to secure a respectable total of votes.
The Koreans, pitching to be the winter sports hub of Asia, have wheeled out a political heavy in the form of the country's president Lee Myung-bak and lightened the mood with the charm of women's Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yuna who appeared on Durban's ice rink on Tuesday in front of her local fans.
Munich, whose bid is led by their own celebrity figure skating Olympic champion in Katarina Witt, brought in former soccer great Franz Beckenbauer on Tuesday to bolster its efforts. It also has national president Christian Wulff in its presentation team.
If Munich won the vote, it would become the first city to stage both the Summer and Winter Games.
Annecy, which is relying on the charm of its region's high class Alpine resorts and scenery, is operating on a relatively low budget. French sports minister Chantal Jouanno came in to talk up the bid on the final day of the campaign and Prime Minister Francois Fillon is also part of the bid team.
Munich will be the first delegation to make its 70-minute presentation to the IOC on Wednesday, followed by Annecy and Pyeongchang.
Members begin voting at 1335 GMT with the announcement of the winner being made by IOC President Jacques Rogge in a live television ceremony starting at 1500 GMT.
(Editing by Sonia Oxley)