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S.L. LOOKS STRONG - BUT RACE IS FAR FROM OVER

SHARE S.L. LOOKS STRONG - BUT RACE IS FAR FROM OVER

Salt Lake City clearly finished first in an International Olympic Committee evaluation of each of the nine cities bidding to host the 2002 Winter Games, but the race to bring an Olympics to Utah is far from over.

The city had looked like a winner four years ago, following a technical evaluation of its bid for the 1998 Winter Games. Yet Nagano, Japan, narrowly beat out Salt Lake City in IOC balloting in 1991.There were many reasons. The biggest was probably Atlanta's selection to host the 1996 Summer Games over sentimental favorite Athens, Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics.

Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee Chairman Tom Welch said Atlanta isn't a factor anymore. "We've been punished once for that. I honestly don't see that being an issue," Welch said.

The issue that Salt Lake City's bid has always stressed is the area's readiness to host an Olympics. Unlike the smaller cities also bidding, Salt Lake has a major airport, freeways and other infra-struc-ture already in place.

Welch believes Salt Lake City is in an even better position this time around because so many of the promised sports facilities and infrastructure improvements are finished.

"What we have shown since 1991, is No. 1, a commitment to the Olympic movement. We didn't pack up our bags and go away disgruntled. We continued and we kept our promises," he said.

Something else that's changed from 1991 - the level of Olympic opposition right here at home. More and more Utahns are questioning the privately funded bid committee's ability to host the Winter Games without going into debt.

Among those raising that concern are Utah industrialist Jon Huntsman, who had supported the 1998 bid. And Gov. Mike Leavitt has proposed coming up with a plan to cover any debts left by a Winter Games, just in case.

Utah taxpayers are already spending $59 million to build a variety of would-be Olympic competition sites, including a bobsled and luge run near Park City and a speed-skating oval in Kearns.

Although a majority of Utah voters approved pursuing the Olympics in a 1989 referendum, support appears to be decreasing. Recent polls show support dropping to an all-time low of 56 percent, from a onetime high of 73 percent.

A small, loosely organized group of Olympic opponents, Utahns For Responsible Public Spending, is circulating an initiative petition to stop further tax dollars from being invested in the Winter Games.

The bid committee finally acknowledged the need to do battle on the home front and has launched a public relations offensive. Welch said he hopes favorable comments about the bid committee's financial planning will help.

There's more fighting ahead in the international arena, too. In January, a special IOC panel will meet in Lausanne, Switzerland, to narrow the field to just four cities.

Salt Lake City will certainly make the list, and only three other cities - Ostersund, Sweden; Sion, Switzerland; and Quebec, Canada - still appear to be competitive, based on the 200-page report of the IOC Evaluation Commission.

The 12-member commission cited serious problems with the finances of the remaining bid cities, Graz, Austria; Tarvisio, Italy; Poprad-Tatry, Slovakia; Sochi, Russia; and Jaca, Spain.

The results, released on Dec. 19 and finally delivered to the Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee on Friday, are based on the commission's review of some 5,000 documents as well as visits to all nine bid cities.

Each of the other three cities expected to join Salt Lake City in making the final cut were rated good in the report, which did not rank the cities. And each of the three cities believes it is the one that will best Salt Lake City.

That's not because they'll suddenly build new winter sports facilities or major transportation systems between now and June 16, the day the IOC will choose the site of the 2002 Winter Games.

Salt Lake bid committee officials acknowledge that the city's strengths will become less important in the last stretch of the race for 2002, as the IOC starts looking at other, less-technical criteria.

The other three likely finalists are counting on it.

"Each of the four finalists has what it needs to offer a good Games, technically speaking . . . the real race begins (after) January," said Helene Latouche, vice president for communications for the Quebec bid.

"A year ago we were just another charming bidding city. Maybe our bid didn't seem so serious because Salt Lake was the frontrunner," Latouche said, emphasizing the word "was."

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Competition for 2002 Winter Olympics

Graz, Austria

SUPPORT FOR THE BID:

Referendum scheduled for spring of 1995 if 2nd phase is passed.

OPPOSITION TO THE BID:

No organized opposition.

ESTIMATED TOTAL EXPENDITURES (IN U.S. DOLLARS):

$789,000,000

Jaca, Spain

SUPPORT FOR THE BID:

A survey showed support from majority of local population in bid for 1998 Games.

OPPOSITION TO THE BID:

No organized opposition.

ESTIMATED TOTAL EXPENDITURES (IN U.S. DOLLARS):

$664,000,000

Ostersund, Sweden

SUPPORT FOR THE BID:

1993 poll showed 70 percent in favor.

OPPOSITION TO THE BID:

No organized opposition.

ESTIMATED TOTAL EXPENDITURES (IN U.S. DOLLARS):

$780,000,000

Quebec, Canada

SUPPORT FOR THE BID:

June 1994 poll shows 71 percent of region supports bid.

OPPOSITION TO THE BID:

Some opposition about financial planning.

ESTIMATED TOTAL EXPENDITURES (IN U.S. DOLLARS):

$566,900,000

Poprad, Slovakia

SUPPORT FOR THE BID:

October 1994 poll shows 61 percent in favor.

OPPOSITION TO THE BID:

No local organized opposition. Some national conservation groups oppossed.

ESTIMATED TOTAL EXPENDITURES (IN U.S. DOLLARS):

$249,400,000

Salt Lake City

SUPPORT FOR THE BID:

Over 25 polls conducted since 1989 showing majority support.

OPPOSITION TO THE BID:

No organized opposition.

ESTIMATED TOTAL EXPENDITURES (IN U.S. DOLLARS):

$797,800,000

Sion, Switzerland

SUPPORT FOR THE BID:

Official referendum, held in June, shows 61 percent in favor.

OPPOSITION TO THE BID:

No organized opposition.

ESTIMATED TOTAL EXPENDITURES (IN U.S. DOLLARS):

$472,400,000

Sochi, Russia

SUPPORT FOR THE BID:

Official November referendum shows 75 percent favor hosting the Games.

OPPOSITION TO THE BID:

No organized opposition.

ESTIMATED TOTAL EXPENDITURES (IN U.S. DOLLARS):

$1,412,000,000

Tarvisio, Italy

SUPPORT FOR THE BID:

Local June referendum shows 69 percent favor hosting the Games.

OPPOSITION TO THE BID:

Some opposition for environmental reasons expressed before referendum.

ESTIMATED TOTAL EXPENDITURES (IN U.S. DOLLARS):

$743,700,000