It's the United States vs. Europe for the right to host the 2012 Olympics.
New York and four European capitals -- Paris, London, Madrid and Moscow -- were picked as finalists Tuesday by the International Olympic Committee,
which trimmed the field from nine bidders to five.
Missing the cut were Havana; Istanbul, Turkey; Leipzig, Germany, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The decision by the IOC executive board kicks off a 14-month race that ends with the selection of the host city by the full IOC assembly in Singapore
in July 2005.
The choice of Paris, London, Madrid and New York came as no surprise. An IOC report expressed a "high level of confidence" that all four could host
Moscow was the wild card, making the list even though the IOC said it was "less certain" about the Russian capital's capabilities.
The other four cities, the report said, "do not have the requisite level of capability at this time."
IOC president Jacques Rogge said the executive board could make another cut next May if an evaluation commission finds any "serious shortcomings" with
any of the finalists.
Tuesday's biggest loser might have been Rio de Janeiro, which had been seeking to become the first South American city to host the Olympics. Brazil is
still likely to get soccer's World Cup in 2014.
Paris came out on top of the IOC report based on 11 criteria, including infrastructure, transportation and security. Madrid was a close second,
followed by London, New York and Moscow. Then came Leipzig, Rio, Istanbul and Havana.
Following the IOC decision, British bookmaker William Hill listed Paris as the favorite at odds of 11-10, followed by London 5-4, Madrid 7-1, New York
8-1 and Moscow 20-1.
Geography favors a European city for 2012 after the 2008 Summer Olympics in Asia (Beijing) and 2010 Winter Games in North America (Vancouver, British
But New York bid leader Dan Doctoroff dismissed any disadvantage.
"I've probably now met with well more than half the IOC members since July and I don't think a single one has raised the issue of Vancouver,'' he
said. "The one thing that students of Olympic bidding processes will tell you is that conventional wisdom's always wrong. We're just happy to be where
we are right now."
New York, which has never held the Olympics, will also have to contend with anti-American sentiment fueled by the invasion of Iraq. But Doctoroff said
more important for the IOC is what New York can offer as a long-term legacy to the Olympic movement.
"We feel we have a very compelling case," he said. "It's going to be a tough fight. It's going to be exciting, with lots of ups and downs. It's going
to be very intense, but hopefully we'll have an opportunity to demonstrate what New York is all about."
Working in New York's favor was the removal of Rio from the race. With no other candidate from the Americas, New York will hope the European cities
will cancel each other out in the voting.
"There must be a risk of that," British IOC member Craig Reedie said. "This morning, speaking to somebody from New York this was the kind of scenario
they were looking for."
Paris, which hosted the Olympics in 1900 and 1924, remains the front-runner. The French capital successfully hosted soccer's World Cup in 1998 and the
world track and field championships in 2003, and is seen by IOC members as having paid its dues after failed bids for the 1992 and 2008 Olympics.
"The IOC made a strong choice," Paris bid leader Philippe Baudillon said. "We now have four exceptional cities against us. Everything is open. I think
it will be a very difficult race. The IOC faces an embarrassment of riches."
London, which staged the games in 1908 and 1948, is considered a main challenger with a bid featuring several famous sports venues and tourist
landmarks -- including tennis at Wimbledon and the triathlon in Hyde Park.
Madrid is the only major European capital that has never hosted the Olympics, though Barcelona staged the 1992 Games.
Paris and Madrid received the highest praise and fewest negative comments in the IOC report.
The report was lukewarm in its assessment of New York, with questions raised about plans for transport, security and the athletes' village. It cited
"considerable air and noise pollution" and comparatively low public support.
"It's never won or lost based on the technical bids," Doctoroff said. "What's key is that they've said they're highly confident that New York as well
as three other cities can host a great games. That's the standard you have to meet."
The report also had some pointed words for London, citing "often obsolete" public rail service, "severe" air pollution from heavy traffic and long
travel distances between venues.
The race will really heat up in November when the bid cities can begin international promotion campaigns. An IOC evaluation commission will visit the
cities next year and compile a report before the Singapore meeting.
[Edited on 5/18/2004 by Ben]