Three-city field, two-city race?

ACAPULCO –  The vote for the 2018 Winter Games is still some nine months away.  But is the race already tilting toward a two-city race in a three-city field?

In presentations Thursday to officials from all 205 national Olympic committees, Pyeongchang and Munich, the South Korean and German candidates, articulated distinct visions. Those two would seem to offer the International Olympic Committee a clear choice when it votes next July.

Munich wants to throw a “festival of friendship,” a traditional alpine celebration with the bang of a big street party.

Pyeongchang, bidding for the third straight time, unveiled a theme it called “new horizons,” a call to the IOC to fulfill the mandate of taking the Games to every corner of the world.

Pyeongchang’s vision is perhaps more profound. It falls neatly in line with the IOC’s recent moves to Beijing (2008), Sochi (2014) and Rio de Janeiro (2016).

Then again, Munich has Katarina Witt, the two-time Olympic figure skating champion. It’s impossible to know whether it ultimately makes a difference but let it be said, and directly: Katarina Witt exudes sex appeal.

Two-time Olympic gold medalist, the Munich 2018 obvious weapon -- Katarina Witt

She knows it. Everyone around her knows it. To ignore that is to ignore a salient feature of the Munich bid.

Everyone in the room listening to her Thursday at the lectern, when she was talking about celebrating winter sport “very passionately,” when she said Munich’s goal is to “lift the Winter Games to a new level of global excitement” — everyone gets that the project has allure because she so obviously does.

Katarina Witt wore a two-tone grey-on-grey sheath dress Thursday from the American designer Nicole Miller, and four-inch pumps from the premium Swiss shoe label Navyboot, and you can bet that after the presentations the TV camera crews had eyes only for Katarina.

As ever, she played it cool. All business. She said afterward that it was thrilling to finally be able to go public with the presentations, that it finally affords those interested “the pictures in your head about what they could expect.”

At some point — not here, not now, it’s way too early in the game — the Koreans will counter with Yu-Na Kim, the Vancouver 2010 figure skating gold medalist.

At that point, the race will sharpen further. Next year.

Oh, and then there’s Annecy, France — the third entrant in the 2018 race.

There are some features to the revamped Annecy plan that are truly intriguing — a “square of nations,” for instance, a celebratory Games-times plaza. And bid leader Edgar Grospiron is one of the most decent, genuine guys anywhere.

Annecy 2018 bid chief executive Edgar Grospiron // photo: IOC/Richard Juilliart

Even so, it is an enduring mystery why the French — just as they did in the 2005 race for the 2012 Summer Games, won by London — seem to keep having difficulty sounding the right tone in these Olympic bid contests.

For instance, every bid-city presentation includes videos. The Annecy presentation on Thursday began with a video that included shots of Grospiron getting dressed, putting on a white shirt, tugging up his pants.

This reminder from the creative department: there is a fine line between being artistic and having a great many people in the room go, what?!

Following that video, the French line-up of speakers Thursday included Pernilla Wiberg, the great alpine ski champion (three Olympic medals, two gold) and former IOC member.

She’s not French. She’s from Sweden.

What?

Then came another video, this one from Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the First Lady of France. Why not her husband, the president of the republic?

What?

The Munich presentation featured a video of German chancellor Angela Merkel. The recently elected governor of Gangwon province in Korea, Gwangjae Lee, appeared here Thursday in person, even speaking in English.

Was Carla Bruni-Sarkozy — who spoke in French — featured on Thursday’s video because she is herself a former model? Or was it she and not her husband because he was the one who in early 2008 was the first European leader to raise the possibility of not attending the opening ceremonies that August in Beijing?

Within the IOC, they tend to remember those kinds of things. And the rough going the torch relay had in Paris in the spring of 2008 too.

Grospiron, asked after the presentation about Sarkozy, said, “You can be sure he is behind us,” meaning fully supportive.

If Annecy has challenges, it’s only fair to note that the other two surely do, too.

There’s talk within Olympic circles of a push to take the Summer Games back to Europe in 2020 (say, Rome). The 2022 Winter Games, too (say, 2022, St. Moritz, Switzerland).

There are currently four Italian and five Swiss IOC members. The IOC votes through secret ballot, and so it’s fruitless to try to divine whether any or all of those nine, for instance, might see the benefit in going to Asia in 2018 and then coming back to Europe thereafter.

Then again, it’s not difficult to figure out that nine votes would give you an excellent head start on the 55 or so you might need to win.

The Munich effort must also contend with the presumed 2013 IOC presidential candidacy of Thomas Bach, the leader of the German Olympic Committee and an IOC vice president. Would the IOC give the Games to Munich in 2011 and then two years later turn right around and elect Bach, too?

“I hear different theories,” the mayor of Munich, Christian Ude, said Thursday in an interview.

“It’s a wonderful situation for Munich to have a representative of the bid who is so well-known and popular in the IOC. Of course, there is another opinion which says he wants to become president and he has a difficult situation …

“I only see that he is supporting the bid with all his power and influence, and we enjoy it.”

As for Pyeongchang: Two times already it has come up short, losing 2010 to Vancouver and then 2014 to Vladimir Putin and Sochi. Can it finally get over the hump?

Pyeongchange 2018 bid chairman and chief executive Yang Ho Cho // photo: IOC/Richard Juilliart

This 2018 bid would seem markedly different from before — no references to politics or reunification on the Korean peninsula, for instance. This bid also features unquestionable governmental and heavyweight business support.

Will that be enough? If it’s not, is it fair to ask what combination of elements and timing would ever be enough to make a Winter Games bid from Korea “enough”?

The only certainty in an Olympic bid contest, as ever, is uncertainty.

Well, and this — in the next few moths, the so-called “Olympic family” will surely be seeing a lot of Katarina Witt.

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