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Paris viewed as front-runner for 2012 Games

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- It's the United States vs. Europe
for the right to host the 2012 Olympics.

New York and four European capitals -- Paris, London, Madrid and
Moscow -- were picked as finalists Tuesday by the International
Olympic Committee, which trimmed the field from nine bidders to
five.

Missing the cut were Havana; Istanbul, Turkey; Leipzig, Germany,
and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The decision by the IOC executive board kicks off a 14-month
race that ends with the selection of the host city by the full IOC
assembly in Singapore in July 2005.

The choice of Paris, London, Madrid and New York came as no
surprise. An IOC report expressed a "high level of confidence"
that all four could host the games.

Moscow was the wild card, making the list even though the IOC
said it was "less certain" about the Russian capital's
capabilities.

The other four cities, the report said, "do not have the
requisite level of capability at this time."

IOC president Jacques Rogge said the executive board could make
another cut next May if an evaluation commission finds any
"serious shortcomings" with any of the finalists.

Tuesday's biggest loser might have been Rio de Janeiro, which
had been seeking to become the first South American city to host
the Olympics. Brazil is still likely to get soccer's World Cup in
2014.

Paris came out on top of the IOC report based on 11 criteria,
including infrastructure, transportation and security. Madrid was a
close second, followed by London, New York and Moscow. Then came
Leipzig, Rio, Istanbul and Havana.

Following the IOC decision, British bookmaker William Hill
listed Paris as the favorite at odds of 11-10, followed by London
5-4, Madrid 7-1, New York 8-1 and Moscow 20-1.

Geography favors a European city for 2012 after the 2008 Summer
Olympics in Asia (Beijing) and 2010 Winter Games in North America
(Vancouver, British Columbia).

But New York bid leader Dan Doctoroff dismissed any
disadvantage.

"I've probably now met with well more than half the IOC members
since July and I don't think a single one has raised the issue of
Vancouver,'' he said. "The one thing that students of Olympic
bidding processes will tell you is that conventional wisdom's
always wrong. We're just happy to be where we are right now."

New York, which has never held the Olympics, will also have to
contend with anti-American sentiment fueled by the invasion of
Iraq. But Doctoroff said more important for the IOC is what New
York can offer as a long-term legacy to the Olympic movement.

"We feel we have a very compelling case," he said. "It's
going to be a tough fight. It's going to be exciting, with lots of
ups and downs. It's going to be very intense, but hopefully we'll
have an opportunity to demonstrate what New York is all about."

Working in New York's favor was the removal of Rio from the
race. With no other candidate from the Americas, New York will hope
the European cities will cancel each other out in the voting.

"There must be a risk of that," British IOC member Craig
Reedie said. "This morning, speaking to somebody from New York
this was the kind of scenario they were looking for."

Paris, which hosted the Olympics in 1900 and 1924, remains the
front-runner. The French capital successfully hosted soccer's World
Cup in 1998 and the world track and field championships in 2003,
and is seen by IOC members as having paid its dues after failed
bids for the 1992 and 2008 Olympics.

"The IOC made a strong choice," Paris bid leader Philippe
Baudillon said. "We now have four exceptional cities against us.
Everything is open. I think it will be a very difficult race. The
IOC faces an embarrassment of riches."

London, which staged the games in 1908 and 1948, is considered a
main challenger with a bid featuring several famous sports venues
and tourist landmarks -- including tennis at Wimbledon and the
triathlon in Hyde Park.

Madrid is the only major European capital that has never hosted
the Olympics, though Barcelona staged the 1992 Games.

Paris and Madrid received the highest praise and fewest negative
comments in the IOC report.

The report was lukewarm in its assessment of New York, with
questions raised about plans for transport, security and the
athletes' village. It cited "considerable air and noise
pollution" and comparatively low public support.

"It's never won or lost based on the technical bids,"
Doctoroff said. "What's key is that they've said they're highly
confident that New York as well as three other cities can host a
great games. That's the standard you have to meet."

The report also had some pointed words for London, citing
"often obsolete" public rail service, "severe" air pollution
from heavy traffic and long travel distances between venues.

The race will really heat up in November when the bid cities can
begin international promotion campaigns. An IOC evaluation
commission will visit the cities next year and compile a report
before the Singapore meeting.