Gunilla Lindberg

IOC drops to three for 2026 while signaling clearly: it wants Stockholm

IOC drops to three for 2026 while signaling clearly: it wants Stockholm

The International Olympic Committee, in moving three — not four — candidates along Thursday to the final stage of its 2026 Winter Games process, also signaled unequivocally where it wants those Games to go: Stockholm. 

Will Stockholm actually stage the 2026 Winter Olympics? Is there government will in Sweden for this thing? Magic 8-Ball says — what?

This is why Milan and Calgary were also moved along.

Erzurum, Turkey, the fourth entry nominally still in the hunt before Thursday’s policy-making executive board meeting, was always going to get cut. For 2026, it had zero chance. Not fake news.

Also not fake: none of these three may yet make it to the finish line. In which case, what then, Magic 8-Ball? 

Is it, “Cannot predict now”? Or, “Outlook not so good”? 

As ever, meanwhile, the IOC like Magic 8-Ball speaks in code, and in decoding the announcement that Stockholm, Milan and Calgary were your finalists, it’s 100 percent obvious that the IOC wants to go back to Scandinavia, which after all is the the heart and soul of the Winter Games experience and, indeed, sought to use Thursday’s announcement as a means to deliver this shout-out to the political and governmental authorities in Sweden:

Hey, play ball with us. Because if you do, you’re gonna win.

Korea for Winter 2018: emphatically on track


PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Think Olympics, and with the Rio 2016 Summer Games coming up in just six months, the headlines are dominated by story after story of bad water, ill government, sick finances and, now, the Zika virus. Just 18 months after the show closes in Rio, the Olympic spotlight will turn with all its intensity to the 2018 Winter Games, here in South Korea. So now for some glad Olympic tidings, the evidence manifest this weekend in the first 2018 test event, a men’s World Cup alpine downhill: Korea is emphatically on track.

Before most every World Cup race, the U.S. Ski Team sends to reporters a sort-of inside-baseball guide to what’s what -- notes, facts, figures, impressions. Here is a snippet from Saturday, before the downhill: “They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression,” adding, “Based on athlete praise this week, it looks like Pyeongchang crushed it with flying colors.”

Norway's Kjetil Jansrud on his way to winning Saturday's downhill // Getty Images

American Steven Nyman took third // photo Getty Images

The Jeongseon downhill podium. From left, Paris, Jansrud, Nyman // Getty Images

Big picture, the 2018 Games are on target to become one of perhaps the most memorable ever, situated in a hamlet where, because of simple geography, there’s going to be a Lillehammer-like village setting — assuming the Koreans can, as they have promised, bring the village to life. Too, because Pyeongchang itself is a ski venue and the skating and other ice venues are down by the coast in Gangneung, maybe a half-hour away, the 2018 vibe is going to be heavy on ski and snowboard — the very disciplines the International Olympic Committee has sought to use to reach out to a younger audience.

To that end, the IOC has approved for 2018 a snowboard event called "big air" that features, naturally enough, huge jumps.

The Jeongseon alpine racing course on Gariwang Mountain, designed by famed designer Bernhard Russi, the 1972 Sapporo Games downhill champion, and set by Hannes Trinkl, the 1998 Nagano Games downhill bronze medalist, runs to about 1.7 miles, with blind jumps and four pucker-inducing, great-for-TV jumps.

For comparison: the downhill track takes about 25 seconds less to get down than the 2:06.23 it took for Austria’s Mattias Meyer to win in Sochi in 2014. Because it's shorter, it places a huge premium on precision and control.

Norway's Kjetil Jansrud, who had been crushing it all season and all week in training, went 1:41.38 to win Saturday's race, his third victory of the season. Italy's Dominik Paris surged to second, two-tenths of a second back, in 1:41.58. American Steven Nyman, also strong in training, placed third, in 1:41.79, 41-hundredths behind. For Paris and Nyman, the race marked their first podium turns of the season.

An aerial view of the Jeongseon runs. "Blue Dragon," the competition course, is to the left, the training run "White Tiger" to the right // photo POCOG

Another aerial shot of the Jeongseon set-up // photo POCOG

Looking out from the start gate over the "Blue Dragon"

Sunday will see a World Cup super-G. The women's World Cup tour comes to Jeongseon in March 2017. In all, Pyeongchang will stage 28 test events over the next two years.

For a long time, it was hugely doubtful that the Koreans could have done what they did this weekend. Pyeongchang won the 2018 Games in 2011; the first three years went by with not enough getting done.

Then, though, Yang Ho Cho, the Korean Air chief who led the winning bid, was brought back — at the urgings of the highest levels of South Korean government — to run the Pyeongchang organizing committee, which goes by the acronym POCOG.


All major construction projects are on time, including a high-speed Seoul-Pyeongchang rail line and the athlete and media villages. Sponsorship: picking up. Right on schedule, the organizing committee is moving away from planning and toward operations.

Pyeongchang 2018 leader Yang Ho Cho on a midweek Jeongseon snowmobile tour

Gunilla Lindberg of Sweden, the International Olympic Committee 2018 Games coordination commission chair, said Saturday at a post-race briefing, "Today, for example, would not have been possible without the commitment of Korea to keep its promise to the athletes and to the Olympic movement."

There’s a long way to go, of course, before 2018, and any number of things can and probably will happen. After all, running an Olympic Games is nothing if not an exercise in crisis management.

Because this was a test event — the entire purpose of which is to find out what works, and what doesn’t, and get right what’s wrong — there inevitably were some rough edges over the weekend. Transport, parking, venue access — they all need to be reviewed.

No easy task for anyone, much less an elderly woman, getting up the hill before Saturday's downhill

Because it’s the Olympics, questions of legacy — what to do with this run after 2018, say — are bound over the coming months to gain in urgency. It doesn’t take much to figure out that, after the Beijing 2022 Winter Games, the international ski federation, FIS, can put together an Asian circuit, with races in China, Japan and Korea. Typically, though, ski runs are part of mammoth resorts. This is — a ski run. There are no glowing fireplace embers in the lodge because there isn’t a lodge. Or much else.

The view from the sky of the ski jump near Alpensia, the center of the 2018 Games // photo POCOG

That said, the very fact that the races went off, as scheduled long ago, is the most important take-away from the weekend. It makes for a huge momentum blast for 2018.

Before this weekend, the Olympic world was asked to believe, without evidence, that the Koreans could put on not just a world-class winter event but, with the downhill, one of the marquee events of the Games. Now that evidence is indisputable.

"It was a hard work," said Sarah Lewis, the British secretary general of FIS, the international ski federation. "And it was a great work."

If it was an organizational and logistics race to the finish, that is all the more evidence, too, of first-rate leadership and with it the building and sustaining of a winning culture — one where everyone buys in because the boss is right there with them, demanding excellence of himself and everyone around him.

“It’s not about me,” Cho said in an interview. “It’s about the team.”

For sure, and yet it is in some significant measure about him, because over his career he has proven an extraordinary change agent, the business leader who can bring teams to hew to his vision, who can command respect in political and financial circles, who moves easily in eastern culture and, as well, in the west.

The weekend in Korea saw the first-ever meeting of the Beijing 2022, Tokyo 2020 and Pyeongchang 2018 organizing committees. From left: Da Xu, deputy secretary general, Beijing 2022; Gunilla Lindberg, IOC 2018 coordination commission chair; Cho; Yukihiko Nunomura, chief operating officer, Tokyo 2020 // photo POCOG

From the first day he came back to the Olympic scene, in the summer of 2014, Cho understood the symbolic import of bringing this first test event in on time.

It was pretty elemental: Korea had been trusted with the Games. Now, could Korea deliver?

Cho has for many years been one of the world’s leading experts in enterprise culture, that thing that is exceedingly difficult to define and to make real but is so very real, indeed infectiously obvious, when it comes to life.

— As is detailed in Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 best-seller “Outliers,” Cho effected a huge cultural change at Korean Air after the 1997 crash in Guam of Korean Air 801, which killed 228 passengers and crew. Afterward, junior pilots were encourage to speak up to senior officers; before, even in the face of potential disaster, that same junior pilot might well have simply shown deference. Too, all pilots had to become proficient in English, the language of international aviation.

Korean Air’s safety record since has been impeccable.

— Pyeongchang bid for the 2010 and 2014 Games, losing both. Those bids were headed by the provincial Gangwon governor, Jin Sun Kim. Cho led the 2018 bid. It not only won but by one of the biggest landslides in Olympic voting history, Pyeongchang getting 63 votes, Munich 25 and Annecy, France, just seven. Those 63 votes marked the highest-ever total for a first-round bid; Salt Lake City had gotten 54 for the 2002 Winter Games.

— Kim, a former provincial Gangwon governor, took over as organizing committee chairman. In July 2014, he unexpectedly resigned, saying new leadership was needed. The South Korean government turned to Cho, who initially turned down the job but then relented, saying it was a matter of duty, conscience and public service. His Olympic work -- which now takes up most of his days -- is without salary.

It took a little time for Cho to figure out who in POCOG was a worker and who, well, not. One of Cho’s first directives, considering that more than half the organization came from government: if you are working for a ministry and you don’t want to stay until 2018, the moment to leave is now. This way he had people who were in, and for the long haul.

It took time for Cho to convince the IOC that he — not the background noise drip-dripping from government — was really in charge.

In March, 2015, South Korean President Geun Hye Park’s chief of education and culture got with Lindberg, the IOC 2018 commission chair. The two-pronged message: the central government was fully supportive of the Games and Cho was indisputably in control.

Time, too, to get the various interests in POCOG — there are over 60 constituencies, including the private sector plus federal and Gangwon provincial government ministries — to learn to talk across the separate silos they had over the first three years constructed.

Then there was the weather. Korea normally goes through a rainy season. But summer 2015 brought a lot of rain. That meant a lot of mud on the mountains. That meant construction delays.

By last December, it was entirely unclear whether the gondola up Gariwang could be done in time to meet the required FIS Jan. 20 check-off, officially called “snow control day.”

Without the gondola, there was no point in seeing whether the other check-off due that day — snow volume and quality — could be met.

The gondola in operation over weekday test runs at Jeongseon // photo courtesy Doppelmayr

Thus the back story to this weekend.

The gondola, and how it got done, would prove hugely emblematic.

Cho had to be in Europe the first week of December for meetings, one of which revolved around his role in international aviation.

By then, POCOG had been told by officials of the gondola maker, a company called Doppelmayr, that the Jeongseon project was unsafe. No way it would be ready by Jan. 20. But that assertion didn’t elaborate.

On Dec. 6, a Sunday, Cho met in the lounge of a private aviation terminal near Vienna with Michael Doppelmayr, the company’s chief executive officer.

Doppelmayr told Cho that the firm’s No. 1 priority was safety. He said it had had 130 ongoing projects around the world.

For his part, Cho said, I have 150 aircraft that fly to more than 100 cities around the world, and Korean Air has the lowest insurance rates in the business.

That did it. At that instant, the two men recognized they were equals — sophisticated international businessmen.

The issue, as it would turn out, was that some of the pillars in the middle station planted on the Jeongseon run were misaligned. Without that alignment, the gondola wires and, obviously, any cable cars wouldn’t work right.

Cho told Doppelmayr the project had to get done.

For his part, Doppelmayr promptly sent a team of senior engineers to Korea. It was one thing to look at photos. It was quite another to be there, on scene.

After that, things swung into action. Crews worked 20-hour days, seven days a week. Christmas and New Year’s holidays? Not a chance. Work.

Meantime, on Dec. 24, Cho attended a POCOG executive board meeting. Hoarse, he could barely scratch out a few introductory remarks.

The important thing was that he was there. If everyone on the hill was working around the clock, he — despite the fact that he actually went to the hospital later that evening, where he was treated with antibiotics and released — was keeping a killer schedule, too. He wasn’t asking anyone to do what he wouldn’t do himself.

It got noticed.

On Christmas, everyone working on the hill enjoyed a traditional Korean barbecue. Cho paid for it himself — that is, himself, not from organizing committee funds.

Intriguingly, the weather in Korea — like in a lot of places now — had been unusually warm. The week before Christmas, as if by some magical confluence of karma, it turned cold, exactly when the Koreans needed it. Now they could make, and store, snow.

The week before the Jan. 20 deadline, the Koreans had made enough snow.

They kept going. By race day Saturday, they had 120 percent of the snow amounts the course requires.

Come deadline day, it was all good. The snow. The gondola, working, got certified.

Then came the raves.

And, come Saturday, the downhill. And more raves.

At that post-race news conference, Lindberg gave the event a score of 100 out of 100, bringing gasps and applause from Korean journalists. In a visit in December, she explained, IOC and other officials assuredly had "some doubts this event would take place." Even so, she said, "We trusted President Cho's promise," adding, "He made the impossible possible."

Echoed Gian Franco Kasper, the FIS president, "President Cho made us a promise and he really kept it," adding, "You have seen it today. We have an excellent downhill course here, according to the athletes and the coaches ... it's a beauty."

Jansrud, calling the mountain "fun," said, "This is more than an acceptable Olympic venue to ski on." Paris: "We can ski and we can have a lot of fun here." Nyman: A "joy to ski."

The FIS technical expert, Günter Hujara, had said earlier in the week, “Nobody believed we could do it but we did it.”

Or, as Cho said in a briefing Friday with a few reporters, “We had promised to deliver, and we delivered. Korea can deliver.”

The Olympic scene drops in on the USA


WASHINGTON — What got done here this week at the Assn. of National Olympic Committees meeting was not nearly as noteworthy as two other essentials: the fact that the meeting was held in the first place in the United States and that delegates from 204 entities were on hand.

As the session gaveled to order on Thursday, there in their place in the rows of seats were, for instance, representatives from North Korea.

From Syria.


Everywhere in the world, including two new national Olympic committees, Kosovo and South Sudan.

There are actually 206 national Olympic committees. The Republic of Congo didn't make it. And elements of the government of Kuwait are involved in a fight with the IOC, meaning the national Olympic committee is now suspended, for the second time in five years, amid political interference; moreover, on Thursday, the IOC announced it had revoked the Olympic qualifying status of a shooting championship in Kuwait, due to begin next week, because an Israeli official was denied a visa for the event.

The North Korean delegation Thursday at ANOC, perusing the magazine from the Olympic publisher Around the Rings

The assembly marked the first time the ANOC session has been held in the United States since 1994, two years before the Atlanta 1996 Summer Games.

With Los Angeles now bidding for the 2024 Games, the stakes were high here for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

As the familiar saying goes, LA surely could not win anything here -- but a poor performance could cost it and the USOC, even though the 2024 race is still in its early stages.

The International Olympic Committee won’t pick the 2024 winner until September 2017. Five cities have declared for the 2024 race: LA, Paris, Rome, Budapest and Hamburg, Germany.

The tentative verdict: no major missteps. All good.

"No problem with [U.S. entry] visas. It was fantastic," the ANOC general secretary, Gunilla Lindberg of Sweden, said Friday, adding of the assembly and related events, "The organization went really well. I heard only positive comments."

Does that mean LA is on course to a sure victory?


Indeed, by most accounts, Paris is considered the 2024 front-runner.

"Two years is a long time," Paris 2024 chief executive Etienne Thobois said. "It's a long journey ahead. 'Favorite' doesn't mean anything."

The calm here simply mean it's on to whatever the future holds, with both the strengths and the challenges underscoring the American effort here this week on full display.

A clear and undisputed strength: Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti.

Garcetti, bid chairman Casey Wasserman and Janet Evans, the 1980s and 1990s Olympic swimming champ, make up the public face of the LA 2024 bid. The Olympic movement in recent years has rarely seen a personality like Garcetti: a mayor who leads from the front and in a style that is both fully American and decidedly international.

LA 2024 bid chief Casey Wasserman, Olympic swim gold medalist and LA 2024 vice chair Janet Evans, ANOC president Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah and LA mayor Eric Garcetti as the ANOC meetings got underway on Tuesday // Getty Images

Garcetti got to welcome to the United States, among others, Tsunekazu Takeda, the Japanese IOC member and Tokyo 2020 leader who for the past year has also been the IOC’s global marketing commission chair.

Takeda speaks English. But no. Garcetti spoke with him in Japanese. When they parted, the mayor passed to Takeda a business card — in Japanese.

Meeting Julio Maglione, the IOC member from Uruguay who is president of both the international swimming federation, FINA, and PASO, the Pan-American Sports Organization, Garcetti spoke in Spanish.

South Sudan? Garcetti, a Rhodes Scholar some 20 years ago, knows the region; he said he lived in East Africa, studying Eritrean nationalism, in the mid-‘90s.

The mayor’s back story — which surely will become ever more widely known — is, truly, remarkable.

Garcetti served for years on the LA city council before becoming mayor. As LA Times columnist Steve Lopez wrote the week before that 2013 mayoral election:

“[Garcetti] seems to have done everything in his 42 years except pitch for the Dodgers and kayak to Borneo,” adding later in the column, ”He’s George Plimpton, Bono and Seinfeld’s Mr. Peterman all rolled into one. When he says: ‘And then there was the time I commandeered a snowmobile at the North Pole while on a climate-change fact-finding mission and located Salma Hayek’s lost purse in the frozen tundra,’ he’s not kidding. He actually did that. And Hayek said he’s a great dancer.”

It was salsa dancing, for the record. And one small correction: the dancing took part in Iqaluit, the provincial capital of Nunavut, Canada.

More from Lopez on Garcetti:

"He was a cheerleader, led his Columbia U. literary society, headed a discussion group on gender and sexuality and served the homeless while composing musicals. He went on to conduct research or serve humanitarian causes in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Burma, worked for Amnesty International and became a university instructor. And did I mention that he speaks fluent Spanish and currently serves as a Naval Reserve officer?"

At Wednesday evening's USOC-hosted reception, left to right: USOC board chair Larry Probst, USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun, IOC president Thomas Bach, LA mayor Eric Garcetti, LA 2024 bid chief Casey Wasserman

Larry Probst, the USOC board chair, said of Garcetti, "That guy is our secret weapon." After this week, "He's no secret anymore."

Some 1200 people were accredited for the ANOC assembly, filling a huge hall on the lower level of the Washington Hilton. Garcetti called it “breathtaking” to see such global diversity on display.

Throughout his several days here, Garcetti played it very low-key, saying repeatedly he was here to listen and learn.

After the failures of Chicago 2016 and New York 2012, it’s abundantly plain that any American bid must walk a fine line between boldness and, probably even more important, humility.

As Garcetti told Associated Press, ”People want us to be assertive and brave about the Olympic movement but not to tip over to being arrogant. It’s like, 'Win it on your merits, be a good team player. We already know how big you are, how many athletes and medals you have. Just be one of us.' "

The USOC has in recent years been oft-criticized for not playing a role commensurate with its standing — or its expected standing — in the movement. To that end, Probst said at a Wednesday night welcome gala, no fewer than 10 world championships have been or will be staged in the United States this year alone.

Upcoming: the international weightlifting championships in Houston next month. Just past: the world road cycling championships in Richmond, Virginia, which attracted 640,000 people over nine days.

The USOC, Probst said, was “delighted” to play host to the ANOC meeting, part of a plan to “become a full partner in the Olympic family and appropriately engage everywhere we thought we could make a positive difference.”

ANOC president Sheik Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait, a major Olympic power-broker, said time and again this week how important it was to gather on American soil.

At a Tuesday dinner, he said, “I just want to [emphasize] that we are back in the United States,” he said. At Wednesday’s gala, he said, referring to the Americans, “You are a main stakeholder in the Olympic movement,” adding, “Come back,” and, “You are most welcome and a big part of this family.”

ANOC president Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah speaks at Wednesday's USOC welcome reception at the National Building Museum // Getty Images

A key ANOC initiative: the development and staging of the so-called Beach Games, a bid to reach out to and more actively engage with teens and 20-somethings, arguably the key demographic in the Olympic sphere. The full ANOC assembly on Friday approved the awarding of a first Beach Games, to be held in 2017, to San Diego, at a projected cost in the range of $150 million; some 20 sports are to be on the program, including surfing, volleyball and triathlon.

Just two hours, maybe less, from Los Angeles?

To avoid conflict with the IOC rule that bars members from visiting bid cities, the San Diego event is due to be held in the days after the 2024 vote.

Like that is going to stop site visits by influence-makers in the Olympic world.

What? If someone is in San Diego, are they going to be fitted with five-ringed ankle-monitors to track them from making the short drive north to LA? Are trips to Disneyland, in Orange County, halfway between San Diego and LA, off-limits?

Silly, and, again, another reason why the no-visits rule ought to be dropped, even acknowledging all IOC paranoia about sport corruption, a topic that IOC president Thomas Bach visited at length from the dais Thursday in remarks about the FIFA scandal in which he did not even once mention the acronym “FIFA.”

“Follow the news,” Bach said, adding, “Think about what it means for you: it means for you that if you do not follow these basic principles of good governance, your credibility is at risk, that the credibility of all you may have done in the past and all the good things you are doing is at risk.”

The FIFA matter, sparked by a criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, clearly poses an uncertainty for any American 2024 effort. What will the status of that matter be by September 2017? And the status of would-be systemic FIFA reconstruction?

The sheikh, who also serves on the FIFA executive committee, sought here to strike a light tone. “FIFA — we believe FIFA needs a lot of reforms,” he said at Tuesday night’s dinner to laughter.

Also a U.S. challenge: how effective can any American delegation prove at lobbying the IOC for the big prize? There are three U.S. IOC members: Probst, Anita DeFrantz, Angela Ruggiero.

USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun and Probst have worked diligently for six years at relationship-building, and Blackmun is likely to assume an ever-wider role as the bid goes on. He struck exactly the right tone at Wednesday’s gala in exceedingly brief remarks: “It’s great to have you here in the United States.”

Meanwhile, the scene at that gala, and indeed for most of the week, highlighted a significant American challenge.

It’s typical at a large-scale Olympic gathering such as an ANOC assembly for a senior federal official from the host country, typically the rank of a president or prime minister, to make -- at the least -- an appearance at which all are welcomed to wherever and wished a good time.

Russian president Vladimir Putin, for instance, opened last week's World Olympians Forum in Moscow, with Bach and Monaco's Prince Albert on hand, calling for the "de-politicization of sports under international law."

Roughly half the 100 or so IOC members were here for the ANOC proceedings -- "almost ... a quorum," as the sheikh quipped. Thus: a major opportunity.

Tuesday? Wednesday? Thursday? No senior U.S. officials.

The mayor of Washington, Muriel Bowser, offered Thursday’s welcoming remarks. Washington and San Francisco were also in the U.S. mix for 2024 along with, of course, Boston.

"As you consider future sports event, please consider Washington, D.C., a worthy option,'' Bowser said, adding later, "See you in 2028."

Talk about off-message.

President Obama, of course, made a trip to the IOC session in Copenhagen in October 2009 to pitch for Chicago, which got booted in the first round of voting. Since then, the Obama White House has played it decidedly cool with the Olympic scene.

Within the IOC, Obama is typically mentioned in discussion either with the security-related logistics of that 2009 Copenhagen visit or his decision to politicize the U.S. delegation to the 2014 Sochi Games opening ceremony as a response to the Russian law banning gay “propaganda” to minors. He selected the tennis star Billie Jean King and two other openly gay athletes for the U.S. effort. (King ultimately made it to the closing ceremony; she was unable to attend the opening ceremony because of her mother’s death.)

In just over two years as IOC president, Bach has met with roughly 100 heads of government or state. Obama? No.

On Wednesday, while ANOC delegates gathered in DC, the First Lady, Michelle Obama, and Jill Biden, the vice president's wife, met with Britain's Prince Harry in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, not far away, to promote the 2016 Invictus Games. The Paralympic-style event, to be held next May in Orlando, Florida, is intended to raise awareness for wounded service members.

“OK, ladies, Prince Harry is here. Don’t act like you don’t notice!” Mrs. Obama said, adding at another point to laughs, “I’d like to apologize for all the gold medals we will win in Orlando.” The prince said in response, “You better bring it, USA!”

Later Wednesday, the prince met President Obama in the Oval Office, again to promote the Invictus project.

Jill Biden, Prince Harry, Michelle Obama Wednesday at Fort Belvoir, Virginia // Getty Images

Prince Harry and President Obama Wednesday at the White House // Getty Images

U.S. vice president Joe Biden on the final day of the ANOC session, with Bach and the sheikh looking on // Getty Images

So -- on Friday morning, while the Rio 2016 delegation was already in the midst of its presentation to the assembly, what was this? A surprise appearance from vice president Joe Biden, the Olympic equivalent of a protocol drive-by.

The sheikh literally had to ask producers to stop a Rio 2016 beauty video as Biden stepped up to the microphone. There, flanked by the sheikh, Bach and Probst, Biden said he'd had breakfast earlier in the week with Garcetti, who had said it was an "oversight" that "no one from the administration has been here."

"He was right," Biden said. "It was an oversight. For that, I apologize. I am a poor substitute, and I am delighted to be here." He also called the Olympics the "single unifying principle in the world.''

More Biden: "I will be the captain of the U.S. Olympic team. I'm running 100 meters. Don't I wish I could! I bet every one of you here wish you could, too."

And this: "I am not here lobbying for any city. Though I do love Los Angeles. All kidding aside, Garcetti is my friend and he won't let me back in LA unless I say something nice."

Biden closed with a note that he intended to attend the Summer Games and that when he did, "I hope when I come up to you and say, 'Hello,' you won't say, 'Joe who?' "

And then he was gone, out of the big hall.

In all, just over seven minutes.

Did Biden -- like Putin -- say anything substantive? No.

Then again, the vice-president did show up. So, ultimately, the big-picture argument can be made, Probst calling Biden's appearance "incredibly important," adding, "The message is our government at the very highest levels cares about the Olympic movement, and I hope that's a message that will resonate."

Patrick Hickey, the IOC executive board member who is also head of the European Olympic Committees, called Biden's remarks "most charming" and his appearance a "superb move," observing that "lots of people" had remarked about the prior absence of a ranking administration official.

And security? This was not Copenhagen in 2009. No disruptions. The room wasn't suddenly cleared and swept. There were no -- there have not been all week -- airport-style metal detectors.

This, then, is perhaps the ultimate take-away of this week, one likely to emerge as a key talking point for LA24 and the USOC: the United States is different. Yes, there are 206 national Olympic committees. The way stuff gets done in the U.S. can often be different than anywhere else. Not better, not worse. Just different. But, for sure, it gets done.

For emphasis: different does not mean better or worse. It's just -- different.

Come January 2017, meantime, the issue of U.S. federal involvement may prove a minor footnote in the 2024 Olympic story. That's eight months before the IOC election. That's when a new U.S. president takes office. Maybe even sooner -- whenever it will be in 2016 that the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees assume their roles.

For now, Probst said, referring to Garcetti, "We're thrilled this guy is here."

DeFrantz tries anew for IOC board

This election year, at its history-making session in September in Buenos Aires, the International Olympic Committee will elect a new president. It will pick the site of the 2020 Summer Games. It will also decide what sport, if any, goes on to the 2020 program -- a decision that may or may not involve wrestling. Or, perhaps, squash, karate, baseball and softball, or others. Beyond all that, the IOC will also, as it always does at its sessions, elect members to its policy-making executive board. Anita DeFrantz of Los Angeles is in the running.

Within the past few days, DeFrantz sent a note to her IOC colleagues announcing her intent to stand for election. It says, in part, "I hope that you will be willing and able to vote for me when the time comes."

DeFrantz had similarly announced an intent to run for an EB seat at last year's session in London. But shortly before the balloting she withdrew her candidacy. She said Wednesday in an interview, "I didn't think I had done the groundwork to have a winning outcome."

Anita DeFrantz, IOC member since 1986

This time, she said, "The stars are shining more brightly. It feels better. People know I have been serious about all my work. The work of women in sport has come to a very important point -- the point where we move forward."

As DeFrantz points out in the note to the other 100 IOC members, only nine others have now served longer than she has. She is only 60. Even so, she has been a member since 1986.

She is due to remain a member until 2033.

Her institutional memory -- both about the IOC and the U.S. Olympic Committee -- can be formidable.

Her dedication and commitment to the movement can hardly be unquestioned.

She is a True Believer, no apologies, and has been ever since the 1976 Montreal Games, when as a rower -- she would win a bronze medal -- she stayed in the Olympic Village, and saw with her own eyes how sport could be a force for changing lives by promoting the Olympic ideals. A dedication to those values has since driven her through service to the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games, the LA 84 Foundation, the USOC, the international rowing federation (which goes by the acronym FISA) and the IOC.

"It really is important," she said, referring to the Olympic movement. "It is amazing that it exists in this world It is a great privilege to be a keeper of that trust. I believe it is a trust for the world."

For emphasis, she said, referring to life in the Village at the 1976 Games, "That was where my life changed.'

To look around that Village and know that there weren't enough medals to go around for everyone there -- and, still, there was everyone, not just together but all together, from wherever. "It's a powerful thing," she said, "to live in an Olympic Village."

DeFrantz has for years played a key role in urging the IOC to move toward equality on issues involving women's rights, both on the field of play and -- increasingly -- in the executive suite. Since 1995, she has chaired the IOC's Women and Sport commission; last year, she helped lead an IOC convention on the topic in Los Angeles.

During the years that Juan Antonio Samaranch was president, DeFrantz served on the IOC executive board, from 1992 through 2001, as a vice president from 1997 through 2001. She was the IOC's first female vice president.

In 2001, at the IOC session in Moscow, she ran for the IOC presidency itself. She received nine of 107 votes -- coming in last in the field. Of course, Jacques Rogge won. His term ends in September in Buenos Aires.

In 2007, at the session in Guatemala City, she ran for the executive board. She received six of 92 votes. Again, last.

In Guatemala, she said, "I am stunned. I hope this is not something to suggest women can never be elected to the executive board again. I will remain stunned for a while."

Three women currently serve on the 15-member board: Nawal El Moutawakel of Morocco, Gunilla Lindberg of Sweden and Claudia Bokel of Germany.

It remains uncertain how many candidates ultimately will be drawn to run in September for the IOC board.

It will of course prove tempting for some to view DeFrantz's candidacy as a test of where the USOC stands in the aftermath of the resolution last year of the longstanding revenue dispute -- over certain broadcast and marketing shares -- that had strained relations between the USOC and IOC.

It's more apt, however, to view her candidacy as what it really is -- a measure of DeFrantz's standing and political skill after years all these many years within the IOC.

When Samaranch was president, she could command dozens of votes. But his time is years ago.

The Rogge years are almost over, too -- all 12, nearly gone without DeFrantz spending even one on the IOC executive board.

And, now?

"I have a great deal to offer," she said. "I wish to take responsibility at the executive level of this organization. I wish to share that."


Special Olympics send-off: feeling the joy


Next week, there's a super little event down in New Orleans that will occupy thousands of reporters, camera crews and beignet-consuming, bead-throwing party-goers. You won't be able to escape it. Meanwhile, over on the other side of the world, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, another major sports event will be going on, too. If you read anything about it in your local newspaper, however, it's likely to be buried back in the very back pages. It's unlikely to command a fraction of the television time, if that, that Ray Lewis or Colin Kaepernick will.

Jim and John Harbaugh against one another for Vince Lombardi's trophy makes for a great tale, for sure. But you want a story? On display Thursday night at a Los Angeles hotel were  hundreds  -- literally -- of  stories of pride, perseverance, dedication, discipline and overcoming the odds.

Indeed, it was all genuine emotion and heartfelt enthusiasm as the 150 Special Olympics athletes of Team USA made their way down a red-carpet introduction  before a send-off dinner.

"To see the joy -- it makes me want to cry," said Julie Foudy, the soccer star turned television analyst, who was on hand to help the athletes cruise the carpet.

"And," she said, "scream, 'U-S-A!'"

Chase Lodder, 25, of Salt Lake City, Special Olympics snowboarder

Daina Shilts, 22, of Neillsville, Wis., Special Olympics snowboarder

Some 2,300 Special Olympics athletes from more than 110 nations are due to compete in Pyeongchang in seven sports: alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, short-track speedskating, figure skating, floor hockey and the demonstration sport of floorball.

Organizers expect perhaps 15,000 fans and family to attend.

Just like the Olympic Games, the Special Olympics run on a two-year cycle. The 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games will be held in Los Angeles.

In Pyeongchang, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge is due to attend some of the Special Olympics action while checking out some of the already-built venues for the 2018 Winter Games; he will be joined by Gunilla Lindberg, head of the IOC coordination commission for the 2018 Games. They are set to be briefed by, among others, Pyeongchang 2018 chief Jin Sun Kim.

Also traveling to Korea with Rogge are the IOC director general, Christophe de Kepper, as well as IOC Games executive director Gilbert Felli and sports director Christophe Dubi.

Rogge is also due Feb. 1 to meet with South Korea's president-elect, Geun Hye Park.

That's obviously big stuff.

But one wonders -- bigger, really, than what awaits, say, U.S. snowboarders Daina Shilts, 22, of Neillsville, Wis., or Chase Lodder, 25, of Salt Lake City?

Perhaps more than anything, the Special Olympics is about breaking down stereotypes. Yes, they rip it on snowboards at the Special Olympics World Winter Games, and in disciplines such as slalom, giant slalom and super-G.

"A lot of people don't know that," Lodder, who has been boarding for five years, said.

"When I work at Home Depot and I tell them I am in the Special Olympics," he said, a smile across his face, "they are really supportive. They are really good about it."

Shilts -- the others uniformly said she was fastest on the American team -- has been snowboarding for six years.

At first, she said of learning to ride, "It was rough. It was hard." She quickly added, "But if a sport is not hard, it's not a sport."

A substitute aide for special-needs children, Shilts said this would be her first trip overseas. "I just say this will be challenging and fun and new and exciting," she said.

And one other thing. She said, "I'm going to win."












DeFrantz declares for IOC executive board

Anita DeFrantz has always been an ardent believer in the power of the Olympic movement to do good. The question now is whether the members of the International Olympic Committee, her peers, are believers in Anita DeFrantz.

DeFrantz, 59, of Los Angeles, has sent a letter to her IOC colleagues that she will be a candidate for the policy-making executive board at the IOC's forthcoming session in London next month.

She said in a telephone call last week from Lausanne, Switzerland, "It's important for the United States to be part of the movement. I just want to serve the Olympic movement, being a true believer and all. I have said it and I will continue to say it."

Some may cast the election as a test of the U.S. Olympic Committee's standing in the aftermath of the deal it struck with the IOC that resolved a longstanding dispute over marketing and broadcasting revenue shares.

It really, though, marks a test of where DeFrantz, who has been an IOC member since 1986, stands.

DeFrantz is going to be an IOC member, absent a health crisis or other catastrophe, until 2033, and though she previously has been an IOC vice president, that was -- viewed now -- a long time ago.

DeFrantz is an Olympic bronze medalist, in rowing, at the 1976 Montreal Games. In 1980, she was a leader of American athlete opposition to the U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Summer Games.

She joined the staff of the Los Angeles Games organizing committee in 1981 and planned and operated an Olympic Village in 1984. Two years later, she was made an IOC member.

Even her work life has revolved around the Olympic scene. She joined the staff of what is now called the LA 84 Foundation and was elected its president in 1987. It has overseen the distribution of millions of dollars in grants to youth sports clients in Southern California.

Under the presidency of Juan Antonio Samaranch, DeFrantz seemed a rising star in IOC circles. She served on the executive board from 1992 through 2001 and as a vice president from 1997 through 2001. She was the IOC's first female vice president.

DeFrantz has for years played a leading role in urging the IOC to move toward equality on issues involving women's rights, both on the field of play and in the executive suite. She has chaired the Women and Sport commission since 1995. This past spring, she helped lead a IOC convention in Los Angeles on women's issues in the movement -- an event that was well-received and that assuredly helped convince her the time was right to run again for IOC office.

In 2001, at the IOC session in Moscow, she ran for the IOC presidency itself. She received but nine of 107 votes -- dead last.

In 2007, at the session in Guatemala City, she ran for the executive board. She received six of 92 votes. Again, dead last.

In Guatemala, she said, "I am stunned. I hope this is not something to suggest women can never be elected to the executive board again. I will remain stunned for a while."

Two women currently serve on the board: Nawal El Moutawakel of Morocco and Gunilla Lindberg of Sweden.

In Guatemala, the revenue issue was clearly burbling, just as it would play a key role in Chicago's first-round exit in 2009 for the Summer Games 2016 vote.

Now that's no longer on the table, and so the vote -- however it turns out -- will be a referendum on  DeFrantz herself.

Including DeFrantz, the early math suggests perhaps six candidates for three EB positions. One is likely to be Sergei Bubka of Ukraine. He usually runs strong. So then figure five for two. One other -- Willi Kaltschmitt of Guatemala -- is from the Americas.

The election is due to take place July 26, the final day of the IOC session. The opening ceremony of the Games takes place the next evening.

The 2011 IOC women and sport report

DURBAN, South Africa -- It was at the Summer Games in Los Angeles in 1984 that Joan Benoit ran away with the first women's Olympic marathon and smashed stereotypes. Now, 27 years later, only three of the more than 200 national Olympic committees taking part  in the opening ceremony of the Summer Games have not yet sent female competitors, the head of the International Olympic Committee's women and sport commission said Friday. The Middle Eastern states of Brunei, Saudi Arabia and Qatar remain the holdouts, a dramatic improvement from as recently as 1996 and Atlanta, when 26 nations sent no women, Anita DeFrantz told the IOC's session, its annual general assembly. "I do believe in the name and shame strategy," IOC president Jacques Rogge said, adding a moment later, "I think it's very effective."

With female boxers in the ring, every one of the 26 sports on the program at the 2012 London Games will see women competing, DeFrantz, the senior American representative to the IOC, also said.

That's the good news.

And a little bit more:

Just 23 percent of the athletes at the 1984 Los Angeles Games were women. In Beijing in 2008: 43 percent.

At the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games: 40 percent. At the 2010 Singapore Youth Olympic Games: 46 percent.

Now for the challenges off the field, which remain considerable:

The numbers of women on decision-making boards in some significant cases have not changed much, and for that reason DeFrantz and other commission leaders -- amid planning for a major conference on women-in-sport issues next February in Los Angeles -- remain "deeply concerned."

Such concerns extend to the IOC itself as well as to boards of both national Olympic committees and international sports federations, DeFrantz said.

The 15-member IOC executive board now lists only one woman: Nawal El Moutawakel of Morocco.  A vote Saturday will see the election of a second, Gunilla Lindberg of Sweden.

Only 16 percent of the more than 100 IOC members are female. The IOC management team includes no women, according to a report presented by DeFrantz's commission to the session.

National Olympic committees in Bermuda, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea and the United States report their boards include women at participation levels of 40 percent or more.

Such information, DeFrantz said, comes from a survey the commission sent out, adding that only 81 of the NOCs filled it out. That means roughly two-thirds of the committees in the world didn't even bother.

The Australian Olympic Committee issued a release that noted it sent a team to Vancouver made up of  20 male athletes and 20 female athletes but its executive committee includes only two women, AOC president John Coates calling that a "long way short of ideal" and urging his member governing bodies to propose electable female board members at the next AOC board vote, in 2013.

As for the international federations: soccer, boxing, weightlifting, canoe/kayak, handball, archery, shooting, rugby, cycling and bobsled have no women on their executive boards, DeFrantz said.

That's nine summer and one winter sport federations -- and soccer, of course, is  the sport that carries the farthest global reach.

In some cases, the reasons for no women at the board level may be fairly clear-cut.

In others, it may be more nuanced, as C.K. Wu, the head of the international boxing federation, which goes by the acronym AIBA, told the assembly.

Wu, who is an innovative and progressive Olympic administrator, said AIBA has been trying since 2007 to recruit qualified women to its board.

It all starts, he said, at the grass-roots. Women's referees and judges now officiate at bouts. Women are being appointed as technical delegates.

Even so, he cautioned, the issue ought not be reduced to simply a numbers game.

It's not enough, he said, to just put a woman on the board -- she must be qualified, and while any and all qualified candidates would be welcomed, they must be identified and nominated by their home country federations and the elections conducted appropriately.

"To build up [female] leadership takes time," Wu said. "It also takes a lot of effort."

Woo: 'Yes, Pyeongchang!'

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea --  Precisely 2,018 people rose as one here amid the International Olympic Committee's visit to what would be the curling rink should this be the winning entry for the 2018 Winter Games and, on cue, started belting out a song called, "I Believe in Angels." The lyrics veered from, "I'll cross the stream/I have a dream," to, "I believe in angels/something good in everything I see/when I know the time is right for me/woo/I have a dream/a song to sing/to help me cope with anything."

Anywhere else in the world you might not say woo but -- what? This, though, is South Korea, and they really, really, really want the Winter Olympic Games here. So, woo.

Woo here isn't cheesy. Woo here is genuine and heartfelt. Woo is the sound of a bid roaring toward the election for 2018, and woo frames the question of the moment: can this third straight Pyeongchang bid for the Winter Games, after unsuccessful campaigns for 2010 and 2014, be the one that fulfills the earnest longing of the Korean people?

"We have seen great progress in the bid from the previous two bids. We have also seen very strong governmental support for this bid," the chairwoman of the evaluation commission, Sweden's Gunilla Lindberg, said at the first of two news conferences Saturday, adding a moment later, "We have seen also progress for Korean winter sport for these last years."

The evaluation commission, which spent last week in Annecy, France, takes a break now for a week. It goes to Munich, the third and final candidate in the 2018 derby, from March 1-4.

The commission will produce a report to be published May 10. The IOC will gather a week later in Lausanne, Switzerland, for a conference that will likely attract most of the roughly 115 members; only then will the 2018 race begin to take real shape.

The IOC will pick the 2018 city on July 6 in a vote in Durban, South Africa.

At this preliminary stage, most everyone -- even the Koreans' rivals -- ventures that the Koreans are the ones to beat, most everyone also mindful that, one, IOC elections are notoriously unpredictable and, two, the Germans and the French are in their separate ways likely to prove formidable competitors.

The perception of being the front-runner carries, of course, advantage and disadvantage.

Most bids furiously shy away from the label. Paris, for instance, was thought to be in front for the 2012 Summer Games -- for months and months, indeed all the way up to the final round of voting. London won.

Here, for instance, tensions with North Korea could erupt. Or some sort of internal bickering could derail the bid. Or some Mystery X Factor could surface.

In an Olympic bid campaign, literally anything is possible.

Then again, being the front-runner allows you to tell your story -- if you have a good one -- and to run the race the way you want to run it. The trick is to not be complacent, and to exhibit humility, and those are the mantras of the Pyeongchang campaign.

"We are ready to listen to what the IOC has to say about our weaknesses and work to resolve them," the bid chairman, Yang Ho Cho, said at the second of Saturday's news conferences.

Meanwhile, this bid has a ready-made story, arguably the most compelling narrative among the three cities in the race, one seemingly in line with the IOC's expansionist trend in recent votes (Sochi in 2014, Rio in 2016) -- a Korean Winter Games to grow winter sports in Asia.

It's a no-brainer, really. The demographics and the money are pointing toward this part of the world. It's inevitable the IOC is coming this way. The Winter Games have been held in Asia only twice, both times in Japan, in Nagano in 1998 and Sapporo in 1972.

The open question is whether the IOC is going to make the leap to Korea in 2018 or some other country in Asia (China? Kazakhstan?) in some other year (2022? 2026? 2030?).

As Won Ho Park, a professor at Seoul National University, explained in a briefing Friday, a 2009 bank study suggests that by 2030 development in Asia will underpin about 43 percent of annual worldwide consumption.

The consequence of that is simple and powerful:

Asian consumers are "likely to assume the traditional role of the U.S. and Europe's middle-class," he said, adding a moment later, "We're going to have a lot of potential consumers of winter sports with disposable incomes."

He also said, "No other region in the world even comes close."

That's why this Pyeongchang bid is tag-lined "New Horizons."

That's why there are now new Intercontinental and Holiday Inn hotels in Pyeongchang.

Four years ago, what is now called the Alpensia complex here, with the hotels and shops, was a series of potato fields.  When the IOC evaluation team was here four years ago, the Koreans had to say, this is where we're planning to build those hotels and shops and sports venues. Now they say, look, we got it done.

Not everything is built yet. For instance, the real game-changer would be the bullet-train yet to be built from Seoul. Getting down here from the Korean capital can still take as long as three hours-plus. The train, to be done by 2017, would reduce travel time to roughly an hour.

The 2010 and 2014 bids were seen to be provincial campaigns; for 2018, that train and everything about the Pyeongchang bid is a leading national priority, as the presence of South Korean President Myung Bak Lee on hand here this week made plain.

The downside of Alpensia is that it is, in essence, a self-contained village in southeast South Korea. That's why the plan here would be to create a "Best of Korea" experience during the 2018 Games and why completion of the bullet train -- to allow for the possibility of getting easily back and forth to the big city -- would be so vital.

The upside of Alpensia is that it is a self-contained village. Here the IOC could re-create that village experience that so many people say they loved so much in Lillehammer in 1994.

With a bonus that has clearly been downplayed but is patently obvious -- there's a 27-hole golf course here designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.

The weather this week perhaps would not have allowed for golf -- they got record snow here, all of it cleared away in record time -- but if the Games went here in 2018 and you could play 18 (showing support for that new Summer Games sport) and then watch a little snowboarding or figure skating at night, that would make for an outstanding double dip, wouldn't it? Where else could you do that?

All it would take is the sort of under-course heating that's common already in certain golf courses as well as soccer and rugby pitches. It might be expensive but it assuredly could be done, leading golf officials said.

Again, they say that's not in the near-term planning. But you can't miss that golf course when you're standing on top of the ski jump, looking out at what has been built here over the past four years.

And you can't miss the enthusiasm of the Korean people, either.

"Yes, Pyeongchang!" they shouted time and again at a beachfront rally here Friday, many of them wearing masks they had made up reflecting the faces of the members of the IOC commission. Now that took initiative.

You'd think that everyone had just been put up to this by some local ward captain. Except that public opinion surveys tell you otherwise.

In journalism school, they teach you that nine of 10 people won't even tell a pollster they like their mommies. Here, 91 percent want the Olympics. 91 percent!

Another sign: the IOC commission was greeted like royalty by an outrageous number of Korean reporters here to chronicle the panel's every more -- 162 reporters and camera people, the Korea Times reported. 162!

The bid committee issued a release Saturday that said it had collected 1.4 million signatures of support,  roughly 2.8% of the South Korean populace. That's enormous. To put that into perspective -- if a similar campaign produced similar results in the United States, it would be like collecting a signature from every single person in New Jersey.

It's like this all the time, everywhere, in South Korea. A couple of months ago, during a casual chat at the national training center near Seoul with long-track speed skater Mo Tae Beom, winner of gold in the 500 and silver in the 1000 last year in Vancouver, the subject of Pyeongchang's campaign came up.

His eyes brightened. "It would be such a rare experience to be able to skate in an Olympics hosted in your own nation," he said. "If It happens in Pyeongchang, it would be a life experience I would never forget. It would be a dream come true."



A clarification: The name of the song is "I Have a Dream," and it's by ABBA.


Annecy -- it's a French thing

ANNECY, France -- The International Olympic Committee's 2018 evaluation commission headed out of town Saturday after declaring that this alpine town was indeed very pretty. "The International Olympic Committee's 2018 evaluation commission has been very pleased to spend time in this beautiful lakeside city, situated in a region where winter sports are so popular," the commission chairwoman, Sweden's Gunilla Lindberg, said at a news conference early Saturday evening as streaks of pink from a lovely sunset lit the western sky.

That is really what happened. And that is really what Lindberg said. It was masterful.

Anyone expecting substance in this context has never been to one of these evaluation commission news conferences, where it is spelled out early and repeatedly that the IOC discussion from the dais will revolve around matters technical, not political. Platitudes are both perfunctory and expected.

Beyond which -- in this case, it's fully in the IOC's interest to be as bland as possible to ensure that Annecy is depicted as a legitimate contender.

The IOC has had no trouble in recent years attracting Summer Games bids from all over the world. But Winter Games bids have been fewer. So a 2018 two-horse contest -- with only Munich and Pyeongchang, South Korea, remaining -- would ill serve the IOC.

Even so, the reality of Annecy's legitimacy is both far more complex and far more subtle, as France's sports minister, Chantal Jouanno, made clear in a wide-ranging roundtable conversation earlier Saturday with reporters.

To be plain:

The minister asserted emphatically that Annecy is in the race to win.

"What I think is we are now on the same line as the other candidatures," she said after a series of make-overs in recent months that have seen Charles Beigbeder take over for Edgar Grospiron as bid leader, a thorough revamping of the technical plan and other significant moves.

At the same time, she acknowledged the obvious: the Annecy bid has been grappling with any number of structural, cultural, political, financial, story-telling and other challenges.

In other words -- it's French.

There are obviously so many lovely things about France. Too, it is so easy to like being in the French Alps, and especially in Chamonix, one of the main hubs of the Annecy bid. And of course Chamonix is the site of the first Winter Games, in 1924.

At the same time, the whole France thing wasn't so great for the unsuccessful Paris Summer Games bid for 2008, or the unsuccessful Paris Summer Games bid for 2012. And now the Annecy 2018 bid has spotlighted again some of the very same problematic issues.

The Olympic movement, for instance, moves increasingly in English, in some ways almost exclusively in English. You can understand why the French would want to speak French. But if you have a message you want to communicate, wouldn't it make more sense to do so in a way that people hear you in the way you want -- indeed, need -- to be heard?

The Olympic bid process now runs to more than $50 million per campaign. If you're going to throw yourself into the game, why get in for $25 million? That's roughly the announced Annecy budget. Bluntly, that's just not enough, and that's what caused Grospiron to get out in December,  and Jean-Claude Killy to note here Friday -- unprompted -- that Grospiron had done a great job under the circumstances.

The bid process now relies heavily on international consultants. Admittedly, they are expensive. Are they worth it? Just to name two: Mike Lee helped Rio win the 2016 Summer Games. Jon Tibbs helped Sochi win the 2014 Winter Games.  Lee is working now for Pyeongchang, Tibbs for Munich. But Annecy went for long months without any international consultant, either to save money or on the belief that the French could surely figure out a French way to run a French campaign, or both.

"To a certain extent, what you're seeing with Annecy is these [French] institutions that are intelligent and well-meaning but there's so little space for some pushing out of the old and incorporating of the new," said Laurent Dubois, a Duke University professor and author of the recent book, Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France.

"The solution is going to have to be some French solution," Dubois said. "There's no reason to think they can't think of one. That's not to think they are going to have to accept what the U.S. or the British are doing. But the only way is for the younger generation to have a way in shaping what's going on."

Jouanno, who is among other things a 12-time French karate champion, took over as sports minister just last November. She is 41 years old.

Asked if she believed institutional issues were at the root of the ups and downs of Annecy's bid, she said, "This is just French character. We just like to have drama in what we are doing."

Even so, last month, she announced the formation of an "Assemblee du Sport" to review and develop French policy going forward, saying it would include representatives of the state, municipalities, business and sport. "One must admit that while society has changed, the organization of sport has changed very little," she was quoted as saying in the newspaper Le Monde.

Granted, the minister is new to her job -- but perhaps that marks the sort of smart thinking that should have been done well in advance of an Olympic campaign, not smack-dab in the middle of one.

Jouanno acknowledged serious thought was given late last year to withdrawing Annecy from the 2018 campaign. But millions of euros had already been spent. And, she said, "We would have been the only country resigning just six months before the end. This is not the sport spirit."

So now several changes have been made.

Beigbeder is on board. The technical plan has been re-worked. A number of Olympic athletes now play leadership roles on the Annecy 2018 team. Several key Annecy leaders move easily in English; Jouanno spoke mostly Saturday in English. A veteran international consultant, Andrew Craig, has been retained.

The budget, Jouanno said, still needs more cash.

Craig said, "Although there has been much talk about the Annecy bid being under-budgeted and so forth, the reality is it's human capital that wins bids and the human capital in the Annecy bid is now very, very strong."

As the IOC commission moves on -- next week to Pyeongchang, to Munich the first week in March -- the task in Annecy would now seem to be to figure out what story to tell, and how to tell it.

"We are not trying to put flash in your eyes, put stars in your eyes. We just want to show you our mountains," the minister said.

So simple, right?

As ever, though, this is France, so it gets made more complex and subtle. Perhaps the task is also to convince the voters that in fact the Annecy 2018 bid is not -- as some have suspected all along -- merely a stalking horse for the big prize, another Summer Games bid from Paris, or another French city.

Paris played host to the 1924 Summer Games. A bid to commemorate the 100th anniversary of those Games would be so very French, wouldn't it?

The minister was asked Saturday whether France would bid for the Summer Games if Annecy doesn't win out. Such an easy question to answer with a simple, "I don't know," or a, "We'll see." But this is France. Commend the minister at least her honesty:

"If we win the Winter Games of 2018 we won't be a candidate," she said. "If we don't win, probably.

"Because it has been too many times France didn't organize the Olympic Games."