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Nagano, Japan, is shaping up to be Salt Lake City's toughest competition for the 1998 Winter Games.

Boosters of Salt Lake City's bid said Wednesday they are only cautiously optimistic they'll get the Games, especially in the wake of a massive lobbying effort by the Japanese.The International Olympic Committee will select a site for the 1998 Winter Games on Saturday.

As many as 1,000 supporters and media representatives from throughout Japan are in Birmingham. Besides having the largest group of boosters, Japan has also sent the most journalists, about 200.

Utah's delegation is the second largest, with about 240 supporters, including members of the Salt Lake City Bid Committee for the Olympic Winter Games. In addition, there are more than a dozen journalists from Utah newspapers and television stations.

On Thursday, all but a select few of Salt Lake City's delegation were headed to the Cotswolds for a day-long tour of the English countryside. Nagano's supporters, meanwhile, were busy at Birmingham's International Convention Centre, where the IOC is meeting.

Some, dressed in bright blue kimonos, raised an array of fish-shaped kites outside the convention center. Later Thursday, 15 Japanese schoolchildren trained in the Suzuki method were scheduled to perform a violin concert, also in the convention center.

During the first gathering in Birmingham, the politicians, business leaders and other Utah Olympic boosters were warned to stay away from the convention center by bid committee officials.

"It's not in the best interest of the bid," Craig Peterson announced at a cocktail party held in a historic English manor house, Aston Hall.

Daily updates for the Utah delegation are beingheld at a pub across the street from the convention center, The Brass-house, before the bar begins serving.

The Hyatt Hotel, where IOC members are staying, also is off-limits for the Utah delegation without permission from the bid committee.

Delegation members will be allowed to visit Salt Lake City's hospitality suite in the hotel, set up to entertain and inform IOC members and other dignitaries.

The suite is filled with fresh cut pine trees, hay bales, saddles and other western-style decor. A television nestled among the trees continuously plays videotapes of movies filmed in Utah, including "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

The trees, which were purchased in England, attracted the attention of the Nagano delegation, according to Dave Johnson, vice president of international relations for the bid committee.

When the Nagano delegation saw the trees being brought into the hotel, "a florist from London brought in a Japanese garden so they could have something living in their suite," Johnson said.

Other cities competing for the 1998 Games are keeping a lower profile in Birmingham. Ostersund, Sweden, also considered one of the front-runners, is billing itself as "a strong outsider" that doesn't "want to participate in the war of words that has started between some of the candidates," said Ostersund Olympic Bidding Committee Chairman Bo Victor.

The big announcement so far from Aosta, Italy, has been the naming of a tree with a gnome underneath as the city's mascot for the 1998 Games. "It's a tree - you couldn't get anything simpler than that," a release printed on recycled paper "in homage to trees," stated.

Jaca, Spain, the remaining city competing for the Olympics, is displaying pieces of ancient ruins in its hospitality suite. Jaca supporters are fighting over how to outfit 100 young volunteers since the weather has been too cold to wear their specially printed T-shirts.


(Additional information)

IOC in no hurry to readmit South Africa

The International Olympic Committee will not be rushed into readmitting South Africa until all required conditions have been met, IOC Vice President Keba Mbaye said Thursday.

After reporting to the IOC session on progress toward readmitting South Africa, Mbaye said IOC members were virtually unanimous in saying that the process could be completed only when all conditions had been met. The IOC expelled South Africa in 1970. It will be readmitted only when remaining apartheid laws have been scrapped and a unified national sports structure has been achieved.