Paris and London wait for Olympic bid decision

Parisians gathered on artificial turf resembling an Olympic running track outside City Hall on Wednesday, cheering ”Pa-ris! Par-is!” as the French capital and rival London emerged as finalists for the 2012 Summer Games.

Cheers went up from the crowd of about 1 000 spectators as the International Olympic Committee (IOC), meeting in Singapore to award the coveted games, eliminated Moscow, Madrid, Spain and New York.

IOC president Jacques Rogge will announce the winner at 11.46am GMT in a worldwide television broadcast.

”Pa-ris! Pa-ris!” the crowd chanted as word came that New York had lost its bid.

”I’m here to watch the victory of Paris,” said Christian Jean (33), a supermarket distributor among those watching two giant screens. ”I’m optimistic and I hope realistic.”

There was a carnival atmosphere at the ornate City Hall, where spectators sat on orange-and-green turf laid out like a track on the elegant building’s esplanade and a group of 60 youths from the southern city of Toulouse played handball.

A large screen also was set up at the National Assembly so lawmakers could follow the afternoon announcement.

French film director Luc Besson, who was recruited to create France’s multimedia presentation, told France-Info radio from Singapore that the nation’s final pitch was well-received.

”It was perfect,” he said. ”A lot of people congratulated us.”

Sports minister Jean-Francois Lamour, a two-time Olympic fencing gold medallist, was equally confident when speaking from Singapore.

”We have given our best,” Lamour said. ”I’m really in the spirit of a competitor. I’m thinking only of this gold medal. Today, it’s now or never.”

Paris is widely considered the favourite, and many French feel a win would help lift them out of a funk. The city lost its bids for the 1992 and 2008 Games.

”France holds its breath,” the newspaper Le Parisien said in a huge front-page headline on Wednesday.

France is battling high employment and a flagging economy.

President Jacques Chirac’s popularity ratings have plummeted and the French have been blamed by some in Europe for triggering a crisis within the European Union by rejecting the EU’s proposed Constitution in a May referendum.

”I wanted to share the moment,” Daniel Malarde (52), an avowed track-and-field fan, said on Wednesday at City Hall.

A victory would ”renovate Paris, give it economic dynamism as well as dynamism to the French population in general”, he said. ”Every country needs that.”

Not everyone was infected with Olympics fever.

”I’m not very interested in the Olympic Games,” said Lucie Glaudel, a 56-year-old special education teacher sitting on the turf with a handicapped Haitian boy named Steven.

”But I thought it might be a celebration,” she added.

If Paris is chosen, ”it would maybe give France a moral boost. We need it.”

Paris, which last hosted the Games in 1924, has a ready-to-go Olympic stadium in the 80 000-seat Stade de France and a prime tennis venue in the Roland Garros complex, which hosts the French Open.

The French capital has proven its ability to organise international sports events successfully after hosting the Soccer World Cup in 1998 and the world athletics championships in 2003.

Its campaign for the 2012 Games was based on the theme L’Amour des Jeux — the love of the Games — with key events to be held at iconic locations, including beach volleyball at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

Paris organisers noted that the city’s candidacy stretched beyond the capital — to Marseille, Lyon and Nantes, where there would be soccer matches — and La Rochelle on the Atlantic Coast, where sailing would be held. The mayor of Nantes, Socialist lawmaker Jean-Marc Ayrault, was to be present at City Hall along with Paris’s deputy mayor, Anne Hidalgo.

French Baron Pierre de Coubertin is considered the father of the modern Olympic movement. His heart is entombed in a marble pillar near the stadium at Greece’s Ancient Olympia.

Paris ”is my city. It will be a big party,” said Nicolas Yon (32), echoing thoughts that the Olympics would help bring in jobs and develop the economy. ”And Paris is the most beautiful city in the world.” — Sapa-AP

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