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Three bids, 88 members, 49 days to go

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- Two years ago, Rio de Janeiro's bid team came here and put up a map that showed the Summer Games had never been to South America, a remarkably clever piece of stagecraft that separated Rio from four other contenders and, ultimately, made the case for its stunning win for the 2016 Summer Games. The three cities for the 2018 Winter Games came here Wednesday with movies and charts and Olympic medalists by the score, the two perceived chasers, Munich and Annecy, France, looking for a similar breakout moment to make up ground against the favorite, Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The Koreans came Wednesday with the admittedly "nervous" but nonetheless impressive Yuna Kim, the women's 2010 figure skating gold medalist. And they have their own world map.

That map shows that the Winter Games have been held in Asia only twice, and both times in Japan, in Nagano in 1998 and Sapporo in 1972.

This is the underlying dynamic of this 2018 race, and unless the others wield a compelling argument to the contrary, it's why this arguably is -- and always has been -- the Koreans' race to lose. The IOC will vote July 6 by secret ballot in Durban, South Africa.

The essential 2018 question is whether the forces of history, economics and demographics are -- or are not -- on Korea's side.

To frame it another way: Is the sports world still in the expansionist mode of recent years? Or is 2018 the campaign in which the IOC takes a break and opts for a more traditional locale before venturing forth anew in 2020, 2022 and beyond?

To be clear: The Koreans have a lot going for them. Then again, if they could win, of course they could lose. They have bid twice before for the Winter Games, for 2014 and 2010, and lost both times. Moreover, it's an International Olympic Committee election; by definition, the only thing predictable about an IOC campaign is that it's unpredictable.

Indeed, sometimes it's just flat-out unusual.

One such moment:

At the session Wednesday, held at the Olympic Museum, and formally dubbed a "technical briefing," with each city given a 45-minute presentation window followed by a question-and-answer session, Hicham el Guerrouj, the great Moroccan middle-distance runner who since 2004 has been an IOC member, posed a question during Annecy's time about the arrest in New York on sexual assault charges of French financier Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

IOC president Jacques Rogge promptly ruled the question out of order.

Rogge was not asked about that question at an end-of-the day news conference.

He declared the day a big success: "It was a very good day for the International Olympic Committee because whoever wins will definitely be able to stage very good Games."

He also said, and perhaps he's absolutely right about this, perhaps he's just practicing diplomacy: "It's going to be a close race."

The Koreans, with their tagline about taking the Games to "new horizons," would appear in many regards to be driving the campaign. At the least, the other two bids have felt compelled to respond to the Korean narrative.

"When you choose the Olympic host city, it is about more than just geography," Katarina Witt, the chair of the Munich bid, stunning as ever in a low-cut dress by the Berlin designer Michalsky, told the 88 IOC members on hand, stressing that Munich would deliver full stadiums and "the single greatest experience" of each athlete's life.

It's not just about geography, of course.

Even so, the broad theme of the era in which we are living is writ large.

The nations that through the 1990s played host to major sports events have been giving way in recent years to countries and regions that, logically enough, are saying, it's our turn now.

As a for instance, this is why -- despite what is shaping up to be a comparatively weak field for 2020 -- the U.S. Olympic Committee, even if its revenue and marketing issues with the IOC are resolved, ought to give serious, serious pause before considering an entry.

One theory holds that after ranging afield to new locales -- such as Rio for 2016 -- the IOC needs to park in a safe harbor, such as the U.S., for 2020.

Applying that theory now would deliver 2018 to Germany or France -- after 2014 in Sochi, Russia, where they're building a brand-new Winter Games destination from scratch.

The competing theory is that the Olympic and international sports world is still very much in the midst of turning away from what was and toward what's next.

See, for example: Russia 2014; Brazil 2016 (and soccer's World Cup in 2014.)

Russia, again, for the World Cup in 2018. Qatar, for the World Cup in 2022.

Qatar, again, for the men's team handball world championship in 2015 -- chosen this past January over three European bids, from France, Norway and Poland.

Our world is changing all around us. Just a couple days ago, in an event that went virtually unnoticed in the United States but is big stuff in Europe, with more than 100 million people tuned in to watch the final episode, Azerbaijan, one of the former Soviet republics, won the Eurovision song contest.

Germany was 10th; Britain, 11th. Spain and France finished farther still down the list.

Azerbaijan winning Eurovision -- that underscores a major cultural and economic shift.

Here's another huge economic shift in the making, a point the Koreans have underscored time and again during this 2018 campaign:

By 2030, according to an Asian Development Bank Study, Asia will make up 43 percent of worldwide consumption. From 1990 to 2008, the middle class in Asia grew by 30 percent, and spent an average of an additional $1.7 trillion annually. No other region in the world comes close.

Complicating the 2018 Olympic dynamic, though, is the factor of personality politics.

Thomas Bach, the vice president and presumed IOC presidential candidate in 2013, is leading the Munich bid. He observed Wednesday that "there are cycles of life," a time where "you go to new shores" and another "where you cultivate your foundations."

While the presentations Wednesday were important, the behind-the-scenes politicking now begins in earnest.

"This is a marathon race," Bach said at a news conference. "It's of no importance whether you lead at 22k or 35k or 40k. The only thing that counts is to cross the finish line first, on the 6th of July. After today's presentation and the response, which we can feel, we go into this final stretch of this very special Olympic marathon with full confidence and with all the determination and with all the passion we can have for the Olympic Games in Germany and for winter sports in particular."

Asked where Munich stood at this point in the "marathon," Bach answered, "I don't care. This is, as I said, about winning."

For their part, the French team includes Jean-Claude Killy, the triple 1968 Games ski champion turned sports administrator. Arguably no one within the Olympic movement carries more credibility within winter sports circles. "We think we have nothing to envy the other two propositions," he told reporters after the French had briefed the 88 members.

Later, he said that he supported the bid "very strongly." He also, reading from a paper left over from the German news conference, said, "It says here that 'Munich loves you.' So I just want you to know that we love you, too."

The chairman of the Korean bid, Yang Ho Cho, met reporters immediately after the Pyeongchang presentation ended. In keeping with the Korean message of humility, he said, "The decision is up to the IOC members. We did our best," adding a moment later, "We sent a message of new horizons."


A quickie and by no means exhaustive summary of the three bids:

-- Munich: One of the world's great cities. Re-purposed 1972 Summer Games venues. Big crowds. Fantastic guaranteed atmosphere. German business underwrites 50 percent of the revenues of the seven sports on the Winter Games program. Germany hasn't hosted the Winter Games since 1936.

-- Annecy: The IOC has had a penchant for staging recent Winter Games in big cities -- Vancouver, Torino, Salt Lake City. What about the mountains? "Authentic" Annecy, amid the world's most iconic mountain range and with a sustainable development plan in mind, is uniquely positioned to take the Winter Games, and mountain communities worldwide, into a 21st-century future.

-- Pyeongchang: Time is not only ripe but right to go to Asia and South Korea to grow the Winter Games, and in a big way. 87 percent national support for 2018 Games. Major national priority. Two prior bids, spent $1.4 billion to build first-class Alpensia resort in what used to be potato fields. "We are keeping our promises to the IOC," former provincial governor and bid leader Jin Sun Kim stressed at news conference.

No apologies necessary: still the shining city on the hill

Enough already with the "we wuz robbed" whining and complaining in the aftermath of FIFA's decision to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 Cup to Qatar. Qatar? Not the United States? Robbed! We wuzn't robbed.

We got beat. Indeed, we beat ourselves.

That's why there must -- again, must -- be a systemic and comprehensive re-think before the United States bids again for any event of significance in international sport, and in particular the Olympic Games.

Without such a review, American bid success has to be seen -- at best -- as problematic,  China, Brazil, Russia, South Africa and Qatar presenting abundant evidence of the will to take the World Cup and the Olympics to new territories.

That doesn't mean the United States can't win.

It does, however, mean that the American approach has to be fully re-calibrated.

"The United States can put forward and should put forward a very compelling argument to FIFA and to the IOC that's based on their needs," meaning FIFA and the IOC, "and not money," Terrence Burns, the president of Atlanta-based Helios Partners, a long-time and super-successful player in the bid game, said in a telephone interview.

"Money is important. A great technical plan is important. But the most important thing in this game -- and the game has changed -- is the vision thing.

"What is the narrative? What is the story? How does that dovetail with making the world a better place and how can we," meaning an American bid, "help you do that?"

Russia's winning 2018 World Cup bid? Helios.

Sochi's winning 2014 Winter Games bid? Helios.

Golf's winning campaign last year to join the Summer Games program? Helios.

Now on the Helios agenda: The 2018 Winter Games bid from Pyeongchang, South Korea, the IOC due to pick the 2018 site next July. Munich, Germany, and Annecy, France, are also in that 2018 race. The Korean bid is widely considered a strong candidate.

More Helios: work on the winning Beijing and Vancouver bids and on events such as the World University Games.

And others, too, which mostly would seem to add to the credibility of Burns and Chris Welton, who is now the Helios chief executive officer, because no one wins all the time:

Moscow's 2012 Summer Games bid, which came in dead last in IOC voting in 2005? Helios. Doha's 2016 Summer Games bid? Helios -- the IOC saying Doha was technically solid but then moving to exclude the Qatari capital, ostensibly on the grounds of the weather.

"I have never seen a bid be beaten by another bid," Burns said. "Every bid I have seen a bid lose -- it has beaten itself."

He said of the complaining, blaming and finger-pointing that seemingly has dominated American reaction to the 2022 loss and, to use another example, last year's first-round exit by Chicago in the 2016 IOC vote, won by Rio de Janeiro:

"It's really kind of funny when you see bids lose and the first thing they do is start blaming 'things beyond their control.' Or anti-Americanism. Or you hear, 'It's the wrong time,' or, 'There are visa issues getting into America,' or, 'In the United States, we have to do it with private funding instead of government funding and so it's harder for us.'"

You want hard? Sochi had zero -- nothing, nada, zilch -- on the ground for the Winter Games. They started there literally from scratch.

"If you don't think that I heard from everyone in the business when I started with Sochi that it was a joke and what were we thinking -- well," he said, "it wasn't."

He also said, referring to the United States, "This country, for every reason that's right, should still be the flagship. The USOC should be the flagship of NOCs in the world," meaning national Olympic committees. "It's not. FIFA and the world should be clamoring to hold their events here. They're not.

"Because we haven't given them a reason to."

The reason Americans once could give -- the reason that used to really, really matter -- is money.

Once, there was a lot more money here than elsewhere. International sports entities were eager to tap into that. That's why the United States could win with relative ease in the 1980s and 1990s.

Reality check: those days are long gone.

FIFA has all the money it needs. So does the IOC.

That's why the essence of the American argument for hosting 2022 -- enhanced sponsorships and television revenues -- was always such a dead-bang loser. It's why reading the transcript of USA 2022 World Cup bid chairman Sunil Gulati's presentation to FIFA feels like you've dropped in on an Economics 101 lecture.

Money still matters. There's no point in the USOC bidding for anything until it resolves a longstanding revenue-related dispute with the IOC.

But, going forward, basing a bid on the notion of making boatloads of money? It doesn't work.

What was missing from the 2022 American soccer bid was the narrative -- the outward-looking reason for the bid. Similarly, Chicago's 2016 Summer Games bid was technically fantastic. But the Chicago bid couldn't hit the emotional highs.

"You don't win bids on facts. You win bids on emotion," Burns said, adding, "You touch people's hearts. You have to do that in a way that addresses their core needs."

A far-reaching re-think ought to start from these two premises:

For one, the United States typically has gone into the bid game in far more of a reactive than pro-active mode. That has to change.

In this instance, reactive means this: Some city or number of cities, typically led by influential business or political figures, catches Olympic fever. In the abstract, there's nothing wrong with that. Passion is very, very good. The challenge is that it doesn't leave the USOC in control of the process.  In a real sense, the USOC is stuck choosing among cities and leaders. And then there's almost inevitably tension between the bid city and the USOC, both wrestling for control.

Wouldn't it be smarter to do it a different way? With the USOC taking a big-picture look and itself assessing when to bid, and whether it would be better to go for the Summer or Winter Games? Then -- identifying the city that gave the United States the best chance? Then -- finding somebody with the right skill set?

Taking charge  of the process is the first part. The second: the right strategy. That means developing a message that's embedded in the bid, and about two things: Why the United States is in. And, more important, why the fact of the United States being in is good for -- in the instance of the Games -- the Olympic movement.

It's regrettably all-too American to be snarky about the idea of sport as a tool for social good. Burns, referring to the IOC and to FIFA, said, "Maybe they're drinking their bath water, too, But they're looking for their movements and sport to make social impact, to move the world forward.

"That's a much-used line in every Olympic speechwriter's repertoire, including mine. But it's true. And for whatever reason we haven't figured that out yet."

Here's a start:

"We don't need to be ashamed about the American story, or apologize to anyone," Burns said.

At the same time, "We have to think about why America is what it is. I think it's still the shining city on the hill. I would tap into that."

And, as well, "I have never heard anybody stand up [at a bid presentation] and say, 'America is changing.' But every day we wake up and it's a different America. That is America. It was made to be a fluid, never-ending river of change."