3 sites face vote for '18 Winter Games

DURBAN, South Africa -- Backed by presidents, prime ministers and sporting greats, the three cities vying for the 2018 Winter Olympics made their final pitches Wednesday in a contest between a third-time Asian bid from South Korea and two European challengers.

The German bid from Munich made the first presentation to the International Olympic Committee, and was followed by Annecy, France, and Pyeongchang, South Korea.

After close defeats for the 2010 and 2014 Games, Pyeongchang is considered the favorite. Munich, hoping to become the first city to host both a Summer and Winter Olympics, is the main challenger, and Annecy the outsider.

In a presentation featuring South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yu-na, Pyeongchang asked the IOC to reward the country's persistence after 10 years of bidding and send the Winter Games to a new region in Asia.

"We never gave up, and tried again and listened to your advice and improved our plans," said Kim Jin-Sun, the former governor of Gangwon Province, where Pyeongchang is located.

"I believe it is my destiny to stand in front of you for the third time," he said, his voice choking and eyes welling with tears. "Our people have waited for over 10 years for the Winter Olympics. Today I humbly ask for your support for the chance of hosting the Winter Games for the first time in our country."

Munich sought to counter Pyeongchang's emotional pull.

Thomas Bach, an IOC vice president and a senior leader of Munich's bid, noted that Germany was making its fourth Winter or Summer Olympics bid in recent years and that it has been more than 70 years since the country hosted the Winter Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1936.

"Today's decision is not about how many times someone has bid or how long we have been waiting, this decision today is about the merits and only the merits," he said. "The question is whether now to explore new territories again or time to strengthen our foundations."

Annecy took a simpler, more human approach in its campaign for an "authentic" ecologically friendly Games in the heart of the French Alps.

"The host city must have a soul," French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said, a subtle dig at Annecy's bigger-budget and glitzier rivals.

Each city had 45 minutes to present its case, followed by 15 minutes for questions and answers.

The IOC will vote later in the day by secret ballot, with the winner expected to be announced by IOC president Jacques Rogge after 11 a.m. ET.

With seven members absent, 95 IOC members will be eligible to vote in the first round. A majority is required for victory, meaning 48 votes would be enough to win.

If no majority is reached in the opening round, the city with the fewest votes is eliminated and the two remaining cities will go to a second and final ballot.

There has been speculation of a possible first-round win for Pyeongchang, which led in each of the first rounds in the votes for the 2010 and 2014 Games but then lost in the final rounds to Vancouver and Sochi.

The wild card could be how many sympathy votes Annecy receives in the first round.

IOC votes for the Winter Games can be especially unpredictable, with many members hailing from countries with little or no winter sports tradition. Outside factors come more into play.

The IOC's trend in recent votes has been to move the Games to new frontiers, taking the Winter Games to Russia (Sochi) for the first time in 2014 and giving South America its first Olympics with the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The Winter Games have been staged twice in Asia, both times in Japan -- Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998. Pyeongchang, whose slogan is "New Horizons," says it can spread the Olympics to a lucrative new market in Asia and become a hub for winter sports in the region.

In a lighthearted moment, Korean Olympic Committee head Park Yong-sung congratulated Prince Albert II of Monaco, an IOC member, on his wedding last weekend to former South African Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock.

"I'm sorry you are spending your honeymoon listening to a Pyeongchang presentation for a third time," Cho said. "I promise to make it up to you in Pyeongchang in 2018."

Earlier, German President Christian Wulff offered his government's full backing and financial guarantees for Munich.

"Place your trust in us for the 2018 Winter Games," he told IOC members. "We will turn it into a joyful, emotional and enthusiastic Games in an open country."

Soccer great Franz Beckenbauer, who organized the 2006 World Cup in Germany and hails from Munich, said his one regret was never having played for his country in the Olympics.

"Munich is a fantastic place to host mega events," he said. "We know how to organize a tournament. The World Cup was a nice little party, with millions of people in full stadiums and in the streets.

"We had our summer dream, now I would like to invite you to the winter dream in 2018."

The issue of security was not raised in the presentation or in the question-and-answer session with Munich, where 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were killed in an attack by Palestinian gunmen at the 1972 Olympics.

The Annecy bid, which got off to a slow start and struggled through budget problems and leadership changes, sought to distinguish itself sharply from its rivals in Wednesday's presentation.

"Annecy's bid is an authentic bid," said Fillon, the prime minister. "It is a bid from the mountains and its inhabitants."

Fillon, who went to Durban after French President Nicolas Sarkozy chose to stay at home, insisted the bid was a "national priority" for France.

Annecy showed videos with sweeping vistas of Mont Blanc, described the region as the world's No. 1 winter sports destination and reminded members that France hosted the first Winter Games in Chamonix in 1924.