The U.S. Olympic Committee trimmed the list of American cities to host the 2012 Summer Olympics to four Friday, picking Houston, New York, San Francisco and Washington.

Eight cities were competing. Dropped from contention were Dallas, Los Angeles, Tampa, Fla., and Cincinnati.

The USOC will choose an American candidate from among the four finalists in November 2002. The International Olympic Committee will name the host city in 2005.

Charles H. Moore, chairman of the bid evaluation task force, said the four survivors were approved unanimously by a 12-member review panel that met this week.

Moore said it was a close contest.

"This has been an inspiring journey," he said. "Each city is better from the process, and so is the USOC.

New York, battered by last month's terror attacks and continuing anthrax scares, was considered a sentimental front-runner.

New York's bid also was strong because of the city's international reputation. The bid got another boost this week when the New York State Legislature passed a law providing a $250 million guarantee if the games end up losing money.

Houston is one of only two other bid cities, along with Tampa, to approve a similar financial guarantee. The Houston bid also is expected to benefit from having many venues in a compact area.

The strength of the San Francisco bid rested on the city's waterfront and scenic vistas. Bid organizers planned to use the Golden Gate Bridge as a signature emblem, much like the Sydney Opera House was used during the 2000 Summer Olympics.

Washington, with its reputation for hosting diplomats from around the world, is another strong contender. Its bid relies on venues stretching from Baltimore to the Northern Virginia suburbs.

Cities that survived the first cut can be dropped from consideration if they can't post guarantees of $100 million to $250 million by Nov. 30.

The selection committee ranked the cities in 13 categories, such as venues and security. Moore emphasized that cities did not compete against each other, and he repeatedly refused to rank the cities or explain why one advanced and another didn't.

He said the four finalists all start with a clean slate. The evaluation process will continue, with an effort to ensure the U.S. candidate wins the IOC vote for the 2012 Games.

Sandy Baldwin, the USOC's president, had some soothing words for the losers.

"I don't see this as winners and losers," she said. "I believe all eight are great cities. I'm proud to be an American and I would be proud to have the Olympics in any of these cities.

The USOC made the announcement in the city that gave it its worst black eye ever. Salt Lake City bid leaders won the 2002 Winters Olympics by plying IOC members with more than $1 million in gifts and scholarships.

Whichever American city is nominated probably will be part of a crowded field of contenders.

Potential bidders include Rome; Paris; London; Moscow; Madrid, Spain; Budapest, Hungary; Istanbul, Turkey; an undetermined German city; Toronto; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and possibly an African candidate.