Three '18 bidders happy with IOC report

LONDON -- The three cities vying for the 2018 Winter Olympics found reason for celebration Tuesday after the IOC issued a report evaluating their bid plans less than two months before the vote.

Pyeongchang, bidding for a third straight time, received a generally glowing assessment from the International Olympic Committee's evaluation commission, bolstering the South Korean city's status as front-runner.

But the IOC also praised the bids from Munich and Annecy, France, and said "all three candidate cities could successfully host the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, with each city offering its own distinct vision and concept."

The 119-page report, which does not rank the cities or make direct comparisons, offers no major revelations or game-changing criticism. It confirms Pyeongchang's strong position, but also gives Munich and Annecy solid marks and hope to believe the contest is a three-horse race until the end.

"Each city's concept offers a viable option to the IOC though the very nature of each project presents different risks," the report said.

All three cities issued statements expressing delight at the report, which was released a week before the candidates make formal presentations to IOC members in Lausanne, Switzerland. The full IOC will select the host city by secret ballot on July 6 in Durban, South Africa.

"It's difficult to measure who is second and who is third," Munich bid chairwoman Katarina Witt said. "I think it will be an open race until the very last second."

The presentations next week and in Durban are considered more crucial than the evaluation report, a highly technical document that is unlikely to alter the voting.

The report was based on visits by the IOC panel to the three cities in February and March. It analyzes 17 separate themes, including sports venues, financing, security, transportation, accommodation and environment.

Pyeongchang, bidding again after narrow defeats in votes for the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, has been considered the favorite from the start as it seeks to take the Winter Games to Korea for the first time.

"Overall, the commission believes the legacy from a 2018 Pyeongchang Games, building on existing legacies from previous Olympic Winter Games bids, would be significant to further develop winter sport in Asia," the IOC report said in perhaps the strongest endorsement of the three bids.

As expected, Pyeongchang came out far ahead in the IOC's survey of public support for the bids. The report cited 92 percent backing in Pyeongchang, 87 percent in Gangwong Province and 87 percent across South Korea. Munich had 60 percent support in the city, 53 percent in Bavaria and 56 percent nationally. Annecy had only 51 percent support in the town, with 63 percent in the Rhones-Alpes region and 62 percent nationally.

"We are confident that Pyeongchang would deliver an unforgettable Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games that have the power to inspire a new generation of winter sports athletes and provide a platform for winter sports to grow and thrive in new areas of the world," bid leader Cho Yang-ho said in a statement.

The report praised Pyeongchang's "very compact" venue plans and said all the land required for the games had been secured, offering "minimum risk" for the games.

The IOC said it had raised the issue of tensions between North and South Korea, but was told by Pyeongchang officials that "the tensions have existed on the Korean peninsula for 60 years" and South Korea had hosted numerous international sports events, including the 1988 Seoul Olympics and 2002 World Cup with Japan.

Munich hosted the 1972 Olympics and is bidding to become the first city to host both a summer and winter games. Garmisch-Partenkirchen, host of the 1936 Winter Games, would stage the snow events.

While praising the bulk of Munich's plans, the IOC pointed out that there has been some opposition to the bid in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where a few landowners have refused to give up their land for the Olympics. On Sunday, citizens of Garmisch voted in favor of the bid in a referendum.

Annecy, which had been severely criticized for its spread-out venue plans in an IOC report last year and had been considered lagging far behind the other two bids, came off much better this time.

The report cited Annecy's vision of being a "catalyst and a model for sustainable development in the mountain region."

But it also pointed out the "relatively spread out" layout of the four Olympic villages, saying it would pose "operational and transport challenges" for national Olympic committees.

"We are very happy that this report emphasized the high level of our bid," bid leader Charles Beigbeder said. "It shows the very important progress achieved over the last months and it strengthens our belief that our case is excellent."