Steering his Volvo sedan across the frozen lake beside the small northern city, Olympic Bid Committee Chairman Christer Persson says the third try at bringing the Winter Games here is on solid ground.

Persson promises Ostersund will duplicate the success of the 1994 Winter Games, held just 200 miles or so south in Lillehammer, Norway, by emphasizing the Jamtland region's love of winter sports.Some 60,000 people live in Ostersund and on Froson, a pine-covered island rich with history located across Storsjon, the fifth-largest lake in Sweden and the home of the mythical but still unseen "Great Lake Monster."

Besides cars, which are limited to speeds of less than 20 mph so as not to break the ice, cross-country skis, sleds called sparks, and warm boots are used to cross the lake during the five months it stays frozen.

Such activities are a way of life here, some 300 miles below the Arctic Circle, where residents work primarily in tourism and electronics, as well as on military bases, dairy farms and in lumber mills.

But their passion is sport. One of the area's most prominent features is a lighted ski run on Froson, which would be used for Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, as well as for Olympic ski jumping.

Some residents prefer to get their exercise on Ostersund's downtown shopping street, munching bratwursts sold by sidewalk vendors and browsing store windows advertising "rea," a sale.

At night, the icy streets bustle with diners, moviegoers and nightclub patrons. Small, potted candles blaze at the entrances to many popular spots to welcome customers.

The International Olympic Committee meets in June to select the site of the 2002 Winter Games from among Ostersund; Salt Lake City; Sion, Switzerland; and Quebec, Canada.

No matter how attractive Ostersund may look to the IOC, it could be just too soon to send the Olympics to another Scandinavian city. Besides technical qualifications, the 96 voting members of the IOC consider geographic balance.

"To that, I say the next Winter Olympics will be in Japan. And I think we are very far away from Japan," Persson said. "A stronger argument is that Sweden has never hosted a Winter Games, despite six consecutive bids, including three from Ostersund."

Eight years ago, Ostersund lost the 1994 Winter Games to Lillehammer. The 1998 Winter Games were awarded to Nagano, Japan, with Salt Lake City beating Ostersund for second place.

Persson believes Ostersund can embody all of the positive qualities of Lillehammer, especially the high level of enthusiasm shown to athletes of all nations, and yet can present an Olympics different enough to please the IOC.

"We will make the same type of intimate Games, but with a Swedish touch," Persson said. "We have a lot in common with Norway, but we have our own culture. That is what we will show the world."

Even Persson, though, has difficulty explaining what makes the neighboring nations distinct. He cited some cultural and historic differences, such as Sweden's love of dancing and Norway's aversion to it.

He's more readily able to describe how transportation and accommodations will be better in Ostersund, three times the size of Lillehammer.

Area residents just shake their heads when asked about Oster-sund's chances of winning the 2002 Winter Games. They also grumble about how much money the Olympics will end up costing.

Anastina Sturm said she didn't think Ostersund could win. "Norway had it last year. I think the (IOC) thinks it's too near. Norway or Sweden, it's the same for them. And I think it's rather expensive," Sturm said.

"I think they are too optimistic," Staffan Husberg said of the big committee, even though his photography shop - like many businesses downtown - is decorated with Olympic bid decals.

"In the long range, it will cost too much . . . the government will come back to the people for taxes," Husberg said. "The bill will come after, and it will be too much."

Linda Svensson, a student training to be a social worker, agreed. "I think Ostersund is too small. It will cost the community too much. But the shops and department stores will make a lot of money."

A different concern was raised by Birgitta Albinsson. She and her husband, Magnus, have agreed to sell the spacious timber home they built 30 years ago on Froson to the bid committee for the bobsled and luge run.

She said, "the beautiful nature" of Froson, named for the Pagan god of fertility, should not be spoiled. But the couple agreed to sell because they will soon be ready to retire to a smaller home.

Persson said he believes a majority of area residents support the bid just as they did when last polled in 1993. Then, 70 percent said they favored the bid.

Hosting the 2002 Winter Games in Ostersund isn't suppose to cost Swedish taxpayers more than $20 million. For each taxpayer, he said the bill shouldn't add up to more than the price of a movie ticket.

For that, taxpayers will get new sports arenas as well as money set aside to keep them running. And the equivalent of 13,000 jobs will be created in an area of Sweden where unemployment reaches 7 percent.

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Persson, who, along with his family's business interests, is among the largest contributors to Ostersund's $2 million bid campaign, said there is a long list of supporters.

"Both local papers are 100 percent with us . . . we have the prime minister, and the (Swedish) Parliament has given us $800 million in guarantees, and we got it at the bottom of our economic situation," he said.

And King Carl XVI Gustaf. Persson said he met with the king after the monarch was quoted with saying he's burned out on bidding for the Olympics. Just how the king will campaign for Ostersund has yet to be decided.

Still uncertain, too, is what will happen if Ostersund is not successful. "I don't know," Persson said. Another bid "will need an enthusiast like me to start all over again. And I'm not sure I will do it."

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