Bid cities for 2018 Games make key presentations

Pyeongchang pledged a $500 million Olympic investment program, Munich played up the financial strength of German sponsors and Annecy pushed its French Alpine traditions as the three cities bidding for the 2018 Winter Games pitched their case Thursday to a key international audience.

Three months before the IOC vote, the bid teams made 20-minute presentations at the SportAccord conference, a convention attended by hundreds of Olympic and sports federations officials from around the world.

The speeches and videos were an important warmup for next month's formal presentations to International Olympic Committee members in Lausanne, Switzerland. The IOC will select the host city by secret ballot at its session July 6 in Durban, South Africa.

IOC executive board member Craig Reedie of Britain said all three bidders helped their cause Thursday, and Annecy — widely considered the outsider — had stepped up its game.

"You had German efficiency and order, a very clear message on the market from Pyeongchang and a surprisingly elegant and distinguished contribution from Annecy," Reedie said in an interview. "It's a much better race that many in the IOC thought it would be six months ago. The two perceived front-runners have developed extremely well and the improvement in Annecy is marked."

Pyeongchang, which is making its third successive bid after narrow defeats for the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, is considered the favorite as it makes its case for taking the Winter Games to a new market in Asia.

Munich, which hosted the 1972 Olympics, is seeking to become the first city to stage both the summer and winter games. Munich says it's time to bring the Winter Games back to Germany after an absence of 80 years.

Annecy says it can offer "authentic" village-style games in the heart of Europe's most popular winter sports region, including the site of the first Winter Olympics in 1924 in Chamonix.

Pyeongchang, which went third in the presentations and drew the largest crowd, said South Korea has the world's 13th largest economy and Asia represents a huge potential for Olympic sports and sponsors. The Winter Olympics have been held only twice in Asia and both times in Japan.

"This is a historic choice and a historic chance for the Olympic movement," bid leader Cho Yang-ho said. "We want to give 650 million young people in new markets the opportunity and the access to enjoy winter sport."

South Korean Sports and Culture Minister Choung Byoung-gug announced that the government would invest $500 million to help promote winter sports and develop athletes in Korea from 2012-18. The "Drive the Dream" fund would be used to upgrade and build new winter sports facilities and training centers.

Pyeongchang said, if it gets the games, it would spend $1.8 million dollars to pay for visits by national Olympic committee officials from 2012-17 and $1.05 million for trips by international federation experts.

The South Koreans said they had kept their promises to the IOC over nearly 10 years of bidding, including the completion of the $1.4 billion Alpensia ski resort, and claimed they offer the most compact Olympic venue layout in Winter Games history.

Prominently featured in a Pyeongchang video was Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yu-na, one of 14 South Korean medalists at the 2010 Vancouver Games. Appearing on a practice rink, Kim said she represented the dream of young athletes in South Korea and Asia.

Munich presented first and, in a new twist to its campaign, focused on Germany's record as a leader in sponsorship of winter sports. Ian Robertson, BMW's head of sales and marketing, said German companies fund 50 percent of the revenues of the seven winter Olympic sports federations.

Taking the Olympics to Munich, he said, "would of course encourage them to stay on for decades and even increase their support."

"That will mean much greater winter sports sponsorship everywhere and a much stronger Olympic movement as a result," he said.

Katarina Witt, the two-time figure skating gold medalist who chairs the Munich bid, said Germany would provide sold-out venues in a country steeped in winter sports tradition and experience.

"We are not just promising full stadia," she said. "We guarantee full stadia."

Thomas Bach, the IOC executive board member who oversees the Munich bid effort, said it was time for Germany to host the Winter Games for the first time since Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1936.

"We have not hosted an Olympic Winter Games in more than 80 years," he said. "That's 10 generations come and gone without a games. ... This is the right moment for Munich."

There was no mention of the current controversy in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which would host the Alpine ski events in 2018. Some landowners have refused to give up their land for the Olympics, and a referendum on the bid will be held in the town on May 8.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich assured the delegates of the government's full backing for the bid and said public support has risen by 25 percent to 73 percent.

Annecy's presentation featured new leader Charles Beigbeder, a French businessman who stepped in after Edgar Grospiron resigned in January in frustration over the bid budget.

Beigbeder promised "an authentic games in the heart of the mountains" that would reunite the "rich heritage of the Alps with the Olympic Movement."

The videos played heavily on the scenery of Mont Blanc and included historic footage from the 1924 Chamonix Olympics. The Chamonix area would host most of the ski events in 2018.

French Sports Minister Chantal Jouanno drew laughs when she made a reference to Paris' defeat to London in the vote for the 2012 Summer Games.

"It is a great pleasure to be here in London — a city that, in the sporting context, has taught us French two things: That favorites don't always win. And that any bidding city must understand the challenges sport faces ... and offer a true global vision to resolve them," she said.

Notable again for his absence from the presentation was Jean-Claude Killy, the French ski great and IOC member. He appeared in a video instead.