As expected, Salt Lake City made a strong showing in an International Olympic Committee report evaluating the preparations being made by each of the nine cities vying to host the 2002 Winter Games.

The report had not been released to either the Utah media or the bid committee by Tuesday morning, but wire service accounts from the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, labeled Salt Lake City the favorite.The nearly 200-page report from the IOC Evaluation Commission will be used by a special electoral college to narrow the number of bid cities from nine to four in January.

The site of the 2002 Winter Games will be chosen from those four by the IOC next June.

The report does not rank the cities but gave the best marks to Salt Lake City; Quebec, Canada; Ostersund, Sweden; and Sion, Switzerland. These same four cities have long been considered the strongest contenders.

Other bidders are Graz, Austria; Tarvisio, Italy; Sochi, Russia; Jaca, Spain; and Poprad-Tatry, Slovakia.

Backers of Salt Lake City's bid have always viewed Quebec as their toughest competition and had hoped technical problems would keep Quebec out of the final four.

But both Salt Lake City and Quebec were praised for their proposed budgets. Quebec was also noted for its indoor facilities and strong environmental protection attitude but criticized for extremely cold winter weather.

The Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee was described in the report as extremely professional and enjoying the support of a majority of Utahns, as well as the business community, which has underwritten the $6 million bid.

And the report said Utah's alpine skiing venues "provide excellent conditions for Olympic competitions with very favorable winter weather," along with access and facilities for athletes, spectators and the media.

Other areas of Salt Lake City's bid that were lauded include its information technology network, media facilities and proposed athletes village at the University of Utah.

The U. housing would limit the distance athletes would have to travel between venues, but the report said the difference in altitude with the cross-country venue planned for the Mountain Dell Golf Course on I-80 could present problems for athletes.

The cross-country course appears to offer good conditions for athletes, but "continued dialogue is required, however, from an environmental point of view," according to the report.

A spokesman for the Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee said bid committee officials had not yet seen the report. Mike Korologos said the areas highlighted in the press accounts were "all things we've been touting."

The chairman of Ostersund's bid had not seen the report, either, but had received positive comments about the Swedish city's bid. The only concern cited dealt with the siting of a bob sled and luge run near a residential area.

Christer Persson, chairman of the Ostersund bid committee, said the IOC now is facing a choice between an intimate, "Lillehammer-type" Olympics that Ostersund and possibly Sion could stage and a "big-size, high-class Games with luxury hotels," represented by Salt Lake City and Quebec.

Jean-Michel Gunz, head of international relations for Sion's bid, said the report divides the nine cities into two groups, "the strong group and those who will have no chance."

Gunz, who received a copy of the report Monday night, said he believes Salt Lake City appears the strongest, followed by Ostersund, Sion and Quebec. He said that doesn't mean Salt Lake City will be selected to host the Olympics next June.

"Remember last time, Salt Lake City was the best on the technical side, and Nagano was selected," Gunz said, referring to Salt Lake City's loss of the 1998 Winter Games to the Japanese city.