Athens mayor salutes winning London bid

Athens, last year’s host of the summer Olympic Games, warmly congratulated London yesterday on winning the bid to host the 2012 Olympics and offered a message from the mayor of the Greek capital. «We are confident that the dynamic city of London and the people of the United Kingdom will organize wonderful games in a secure and friendly environment,» Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis said in a letter to her London counterpart Ken Livingstone. «We here in Athens are eager to share our experience and the valuable know-how we gained during the hosting of the 2004 Olympic Games,» wrote Bakoyannis, who was a major force behind the city’s organization of the Games. While Athens came under severe scrutiny in the run-up to last year’s Games, notably over delays in construction and infrastructure problems, the well-organized and popular Olympics silenced most critics, especially the British ones. London’s winning bid yesterday, a major upset, defied the odds to come from behind and pip Paris at the post. The final vote in Singapore by the IOC members was 54-50 in favor of London. It was an amazing victory for bid leader and two-time Olympic champion Sebastian Coe, who was brought in last year to replace American Barbara Cassani, who quit as leader of the London 2012 team. London’s bid was trailing badly behind the French and looked doomed. But Coe, along with businessman Keith Mills and London Mayor Livingstone, turned everything around. «We won’t let you down,» vowed Coe. «We want to transform the face of British sport but we will never forget our international obligations to make sure that young people everywhere have greater opportunity than they currently do to take part in sport. In the early days, it was hard pounding but we stuck to what we all believed in,» Coe added. Livingstone promised an Olympics to remember. «This is amazing because when we started out we thought this was a mountain to climb, that we would never actually win. Now we are going to give the world the best Games they have ever seen,» Livingstone said. It was also a massive personal victory for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who flew into Singapore three days before the IOC members voted to hold a series of private one-on-one meetings with the members to sell the bid. Nearly 20 members were escorted up to a special suite in the Swiss Hotel over Monday and Tuesday to meet Blair. Moscow, New York and Madrid were all eliminated in three rounds of voting by the nearly 100 IOC members present, leaving London and Paris as the two final contenders. It was the third time in 20 years that the French capital had been rejected by the IOC. «It will be a while before we become a candidate again, whether it be the summer games or the winter games,» said Henri Serandour, president of the French National Olympic Committee. «There is a problem. For the third time… it is a bit hard to swallow. We have to find the explanation, and it will not be easy.» French Sports Minister Jean-Francois Lamour was equally upset. «It is too soon to analyze this defeat in detail,» he said. The defeat was a bitter blow for French President Jacques Chirac, who has been personally involved in all three Paris bids – once as mayor of Paris and twice as president. The rivalries flared on Monday when consultants to the London Olympic bid in Singapore criticized Paris’ Stade de France, a centerpiece of the French capital’s campaign, in apparent breach of IOC rules. Chirac added to the tensions with comments published in the French newspaper, Liberation, ridiculing British cooking. «The only thing they have done for European agriculture is ‘mad cow [disease],’» he reportedly said during a weekend meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. The French capital, which hosted soccer’s World Cup final in 1998 and the world athletics championships in 2003, had pinned its hopes on its glamour and its ready-to-go venues, such as the 80,000-seat Stade de France and the Roland Garros complex, which hosts the French Open. «I feel disappointment; a bit of anger, too,» said 27-year-old Loyola Ranarison, who works for an Internet company. «In London, they don’t even have all the infrastructure yet. I don’t understand at all what happened.» 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. (AFP, AP)

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