GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Cities bidding to host the 2014 Winter Olympics are holding their breaths with the crucial vote that will pour fame and fortune on the winner less than 48 hours away.
With no clear favorite after two years of solid campaigning, South Korea’s Pyeongchang, Russia’s Sochi and Austria’s Salzburg hope their work will finally pay off when the 97 eligible International Olympic Committee members vote during their session on July 4.
“This is a dramatic and historic moment,” Sochi bid leader Dmitri Chernyshenko told reporters in Guatemala City, where the IOC will vote on the 2014 host city.
Sochi is banking on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s global reach for support, after spending some $30 million on their campaign.
Putin, who spends his summers in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, has thrown his weight behind the bid, flying south on Monday after meeting U.S. President George W. Bush in the United States.
“He is our captain, the captain of our team,” Chernyshenko said with anticipation.
It is not only Sochi using heads of state to shore up support among IOC members. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer have been in the Guatemalan capital for several days, on an extended charm offensive with IOC members and international media.
Such an offensive paid off handsomely for London in 2005 when then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s presence at the IOC session in Singapore was credited with winning the vote for the English capital, beating favorite Paris.
A majority of 49 votes is needed for an outright win. Otherwise there will be a second round of voting with the city with the fewest votes eliminated.
South Korean, Austrian and Russian fans either living in the country or being flown-in for the event are also expected outside the official IOC hotel on Wednesday in a last-minute public relations stunt aimed at members gathering inside for the vote.
“We are happy that we have finally come to this point because like any athlete, you want to go into the final 100 meters sprinting, giving it everything you’ve got,” one bid city official, who did not want to be named, said.
“We trained at home for two years and now we are here for the competition, the race.”
But it is not always the cleanest of campaigns with complaints that one bid city has been slipping negative press clippings about a rival city under the doors of IOC members’ rooms.
A hastily erected ice rink to serve as promotion for the Russian bid was also off-limits for IOC members until after the vote so as not to break IOC campaigning rules.
Reigning Olympic figure skating champion Evgeny Plushenko instead put on roller blades and went skating with Guatemalans, hoping the Games will go to Russia for the first time.
But the vote is still too close to call.
“Before I became president I took part in seven elections and you can never predict the outcome,” South Korean President Roh said.
“All I can say is that we are trying our very best. I am here to convey this message of the Korean people to the IOC.”