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IOC trims field of ’08 bid cities

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Beijing, Paris, Toronto, Istanbul and Osaka were selected Monday as finalists in the bidding for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee executive board trimmed the preliminary field of 10 cities to a short-list of five official candidates.

Eliminated were Bangkok, Thailand; Cairo, Egypt; Havana, Cuba; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Seville, Spain.

The cutoff came 10 1/2 months before the full IOC selects the 2008 host city at its session in Moscow in July 2001.

The IOC said Beijing, Paris, Toronto and Osaka "reached an overall grade above the established benchmark" for Olympic bid cities. The board also accepted a recommendation of a working group to include Istanbul, making a third consecutive bid, as a fifth candidate city.

On another issue, the IOC board gave final approval to introducing tests for the banned performance-enhancing drug erythropoietin, or EPO, at the Sydney Games.

The tests were endorsed Sunday by the IOC juridical commission, which found no legal impediments to using the controls and recommended their final approval Monday by the executive board.

A combined urine and blood test for EPO was backed earlier this month by the IOC medical commission and outside scientific experts. But final authorization was required by the legal commission and executive board.

Beijing, which lost by two votes to Sydney in the 1993 ballot for the 2000 Games, is widely considered the city to beat.

With its population of 1.26 billion, China offers a vast, untapped market for the Games. But China's human rights record could again be a major issue, as pro-Tibet groups have already threatened to wage a campaign against Beijing's bid.

The new "candidate acceptance procedure" was introduced as part of the reforms adopted by the IOC last year following the bribery scandal centering on Salt Lake City's winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games.

The process is designed to save money, weed out no-hopers and prevent a repetition of the payoffs and favors exposed by the Salt Lake affair. Gifts and member visits to bid cities are prohibited under the new system.

The five finalists are now classified as official candidate cities. The IOC will appoint an evaluation commission to visit the sites and prepare a report assessing their capabilities.

The cities went through a preliminary screening process to determine whether they meet the minimum organizational requirements for staging the Olympics.

The 2008 applicants responded to an IOC questionnaire covering issues such as political and public support, general and sports infrastructure, logistics and experience, and financing. A small group of IOC officials have studied the replies and compiled a report for the executive board.

EPO, the drug at the heart of the Tour de France doping scandal in 1998, is believed to be widely used by athletes in endurance events such as long-distance running, swimming and cycling.

Injected in synthetic form, EPO enhances stamina by increasing the number of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the muscles. Experts say it can improve performance by up to 15 percent.

French researchers developed a urine test which can provide direct proof of EPO use, while Australian scientists devised a blood test which offers indirect evidence.

In Sydney, an athlete will be considered guilty of EPO use only if both tests are positive.

The IOC has said it plans to test at least 300 athletes for EPO in Sydney, and possibly as many as 700. Testing would begin on Sept. 2, the day the athletes' village opens, and continue until the closing of the games Oct. 1.

In addition to the EPO tests, the new World Anti-Doping Agency is conducting around 2,000 unannounced, out-of-competition tests before the Sydney Games. During the Olympics, the IOC expects to carry out around 2,400 standard urine tests.