LONDON – Stung by a lingering land dispute with farmers and the sudden resignation of its CEO for health reasons, Munich is relying on figure skating great Katarina Witt to lift the city's bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist will take a more high-profile role in the campaign following Monday's departure of bid chief executive Willy Bogner, who is suffering from a serious intestinal illness and has been replaced by Bernard Schwank.
Witt has been serving as chair of the bid board, traveling internationally to promote the Bavarian city's effort. While she will continue in that position, Witt also will become more involved in Germany and lead the formal bid presentations at international Olympic meetings.
All of which, she said, plays to her strengths.
"With all my experience as a former athlete and experience in the Olympics, I have a chance to involve people more," Witt told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "We have a tremendous amount of support of the public, but I want to include the sportsmen, help give them a voice.
"We have great winter competitions coming up. This is the heart and soul of our bid — the fans, the athletes, the atmosphere."
Munich, which hosted the 1972 Summer Olympics, is trying to become the first city to stage both the summer and winter games. It is competing against Annecy, France and Pyeongchang, South Korea. The IOC will select the host city in a vote in Durban, South Africa, in July 2011.
The Munich bid has struggled in recent months. The most serious issue has been the stalemate with farmers in nearby Garmisch-Partenkirchen, who have refused to cede their land for Olympic use. German officials have even started negotiating for use of NATO-controlled territory in the region, which includes a golf course.
"I think discussions with the farmers are on a good way," said Witt, who won gold medals in 1984 and 1988 for the former East Germany. "We definitely have a backup plan. I think in one way or the other this issue will be solved. It's in the right hands with the local politicians."
Witt has met with dozens of IOC members in her travels to the Vancouver Games in February, Olympic meetings in Dubai in April and last month's Youth Olympics in Singapore.
"They ask about the farmers and those issues, but we all know that most bids always have some problems in the countries that through time are solved," Witt said. "You never get people 100 percent behind one idea. We definitely have the support of the majority of our people."
Witt's first big challenge will come next month at Olympic meetings in Acapulco, Mexico, where the three cities will each make a presentation to an influential audience of national Olympic committees and IOC members. It's the first presentation since the three candidates were officially approved as bid cities in June.
"It's very important to make the right impression at the first presentation," Witt said.
Pyeongchang, bidding for the third consecutive time after narrow defeats to Vancouver and Sochi, Russia, for the 2010 and 2014 Games, is considered the early favorite.
Annecy, bidding for the first time, was criticized by the IOC for its venue plans in June and is revamping its project.
"Pyeongchang of course has already been in the race two times," Witt said. "They have the experience of that, but all three have a chance. All are very close. In the end, it will be decided by who will be the best in bringing across what the IOC wants to see."
Witt isn't the only figure skating star lending her power to an Olympic bid.
Kim Yu-na, the 20-year-old gold medalist in Vancouver, is helping Pyeongchang's effort.
"She is a fantastic skater and ambassador for our sport," Witt said. "I bring in a lot of experience with three Olympics and working for TV. Now I get a chance to work to bring the Olympics to my own home. That is something very special."
"The only sad thing," she added, "is that unlike the Olympics where you have the podium for gold, silver and bronze, here there is only one for the winner."