By a song and a prayer, France bids for Games

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By a song and a prayer, France bids for Games

ANNECY, France - Nobody expected Olympic champions to sing a song - at least the reporters. But that is exactly what a dozen medalists did at a press conference on Saturday, wrapping up a visit by the International Olympic Committee evaluation commission to Annecy. A pristine lakeside town facing the Alps, Annecy is bidding for the Winter Olympic Games in 2018.

Its competitors - Munich, Germany and Pyeongchang, South Korea - have considered Annecy to be an underdog. Annecy has thought this itself, as did its new bid leader, Charles Beigbeder, who said in an interview earlier this year that Annecy has been struggling to gain a “top dog” status. But in Annecy, Beigbeder told the Korea JoongAng Daily: “We are back in the race. We are confident.”

The singing Olympians were surely on the same page, as figure-skating medalist Gwendal Peizerat led his fellow athletes in the song, “Welcome the OG (Olympic Games)” in a remake of the legendary “Hotel California” tune by the Eagles. The lyrics: “Our mind is IOC twisted, we live by Coubertin’s rules” and “I listened to the wind blowing in the trees. I thought I heard Annecy.”

But these Olympians didn’t come to Annecy just to sing. They are members of the bid committee. The Annecy bid prides itself on involving its athletes in the bid process, saying they are “by the athletes, for the athletes.”

The IOC evaluation commission is headed by Gunilla Lindberg and two colleagues, Angela Ruggiero and Barry Maister, as well as an entourage of environment and finance experts. From Feb. 8 to 12, the group toured various sites in the Alps, closely studying the game plans and being greeted warmly by President Nicolas Sarkozy and his cabinet members.

Lindberg said at the closing ceremony, “The bid committee has listened to the comments of the IOC, and there has been a big improvement in the bid, especially not to have so many competition venues. It’s a good procedure.” Then she took note of the athletes’ participation, saying she could see “the energy and the wish of athletes.”

Beigbeder, a successful businessman known for his audacious manner, may have been right in his confidence. Guy Drut, a French bid member, doubled the sentiment, proudly telling the Korea JoongAng Daily that his country has a “good bid,” overturning his past remark that Annecy is “lagging behind.”

Meanwhile, the international media were perplexed over the bid committee blocking five reporters from South Korea for two media opportunities, including an interview with the French bid member, Jean-Claude Killy. The committee later said in an explanation that it was arranged for “online sports media only.”

The IOC commission will be in Pyeongchang, South Korea this week, followed by Munich, Germany on Feb. 28.

A decision will be made July 6.

By Chun Su-jin []
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