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Tale of twelve cities: the race to host the 1992 Olympics

If the delegation from Birmingham, England, can be believed, it has just pulled into the lead ahead of Barcelona -- with a bid it says is ``technically brilliant.'' Amsterdam isn't sure if it is running first, but surely it is in the lead pack with Paris and Barcelona. The finish line for this race is Oct. 27, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will select two cities to play host to the 1992 Olympics. Recently, 12 cities put themselves on display here in an attempt to woo members of the IOC, who met here along with the Association of National Olympic Committees.

Together, the cities are believed to be spending about $50 million, an amount about which IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch says he is concerned. The cities have indeed put together some lavish public-relations campaigns.

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Paris put on an elaborate luncheon buffet for several hundred people. Berchtesgaden, West Germany, had an oompah band, and Altbertville, France, which is competing for the Winter Games, naturally brought Jean-Claude Killy.

Anchorage imported a live act: Five models in colorful sports costumes danced jerkily like wound-up robots to a musical score. Even so, Anchorage sees itself as an underdog in the run for the Winter Games. The public loved Anchorage, but, said a delegate, ``the public thinks all of this is for them. Of course it isn't. The only people who really matter are the IOC members.''

Barcelona seems to have heeded this bit of advice, since its booth was usually unmanned. The representatives magically appeared, though, when the IOC sauntered through the display area.

Barcelona may have the strongest bid to host the Summer Olympics. It has tried five times before and has never succeeded. But Spain is now a democracy, the Latin sports community is the largest in the world, and -- although no one wants to accuse anyone of favoritism -- the IOC president is a Barcelona native.

Paris was amused to see a life-size photograph of Pierre de Coubertin in one exhibit. Paris says it hopes to host the 1992 Olympics precisely because Mr. de Coubertin, a French scholar and educator who served as president of the IOC until 1925, was the man responsible for the first modern Olympiad in Athens in 1896.

Every city boasts sporting facilities that are ``uniquely'' concentrated and secure. Birmingham may fill the bill, since all contests except for boating sports would take place in a single complex surrounded by a secure double fence within which athletes may freely stroll wherever they please. Birmingham is aching for the games to be held there -- to help revive the local economy.

``Who wants to go to Birmingham?'' asked one European delegate. Paris is selling . . . well . . . Paris.''

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Amsterdam says it is the least politically controversial of any of the sites, although others say its bid is hurt by Holland's extremist ecology movement and a local drug problem.

How will the IOC decide? No one knows. But it is unlikely that in the coming months IOC members will be in want of a free ticket to explore the world's great cities or mountain resorts, should they become bored strutting about the office. The 12 candidates are: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brisbane, Belgrade (Yugoslavia), and Birmingham for the Summer Games and Albertville, Anchorage, Berchtesgaden, Cortina d'Ampezzo (Italy), Falun (Sweden), and Sofia (Bulgaria) for the Winter Games.

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