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IOC members divided on bids with two days left before vote

COPENHAGEN – The International Olympic Committee is no stranger to tough decisions. It took the risk of sending the games to Beijing and said “No” to New York in the aftermath of 9/11. Yet, despite all of that accumulated experience, some IOC members are struggling with their latest conundrum: choosing the Olympic host for 2016.

Just two days ahead of the vote, many were undecided.

And that means two things – it’s still too close to call between Rio de Janeiro, Chicago, Tokyo and Madrid and, for the next couple of days, IOC members are going to feel that they are the most popular people on the planet. Everyone in Copenhagen, where they are gathered, seemingly wants to be their new best friend.

Want to meet Michelle Obama? Not a problem if you’re an IOC member who needs a little pointer on which way to vote. The first lady, beating her husband to the Danish capital, has a two-room suite in the IOC hotel, with homely white leather furniture and an interactive table that, at the touch of a hand, gives bird’s eye views of how a Chicago Olympics might look.

Mrs. Obama arrived Wednesday, two days ahead of the US leader, and got straight to work on impressing IOC members.

“We’re not taking anything for granted, so I’m going to go talk to some voters,” she said.

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IOC members who have been through this selection process repeatedly, previously sending the games to London, Beijing, Athens and Sydney, told The Associated Press that they could not remember a tougher choice. The AP canvassed the opinions of a dozen IOC members. With all four cities seen as amply capable, technically at least, of holding the Olympics, they said much will ride on how well or badly the cities make their case in final 45-minute presentations to the IOC on Friday before the successive rounds of secret balloting.

“I have two favorites,” IOC member Nicole Hoevertsz said. “It’s going to come down to the last, last presentation. It’s going to come down to the last minute.”

As tension mounted, so did tempers. Despite fresh IOC warnings that the cities should avoid criticizing their rivals, the Spanish Olympic Committee’s vice president, Jose Maria Odriozola, told the national Efe news agency that “Rio is the worst bid.”

Rio bid organizers said the criticism was “totally unacceptable” and formally complained to the IOC.

The outcome Friday could hinge on which cities are eliminated first and, if and when their favorites are knocked out, how IOC members subsequently line up behind the other candidates. That makes predicting a winner perilous and means that even members who say they already have made their choice are still worth lobbying.

“It is difficult enough to know where the first-round votes are going to go, so trying to imagine where the swinging votes are going to go is impossible,” said Spanish IOC member Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., whose father served as IOC president for 21 years.

“Events in the next 48 hours will decide the winner, because they will have a significant influence on the second- and third-round votes,” he said. (AP)

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