Munich challenging for 2018 Winter Olympics

Associated Press
FILE - In this Feb. 28, 2011 file photo, former German figure skater and the ambassador for the Munich bid Katarina Witt is seen in Munich, southern Germany. After overcoming domestic opposition, winning strong government endorsement and earning praise from the IOC, the Bavarian capital of Munich believes it is in a strong position to secure the 2018 Winter Olympics. Munich is considered a close second behind the South Korean city of Pyeongchang ahead of the International Olympic Committee vote on July 6 in Durban, South Africa. Annecy, France, is the third contender. (AP Photo/dapd, Joerg Koch)
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MUNICH (AP) — After overcoming domestic opposition, winning a strong government endorsement and earning praise from the IOC, the Bavarian capital of Munich believes it is in a strong position to secure the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Munich is considered a close second behind the South Korean city of Pyeongchang ahead of the International Olympic Committee vote on next Wednesday in Durban, South Africa. Annecy, France, is the third contender.

"We feel that we can win," said Thomas Bach, an IOC vice president and Germany's top Olympic official. "But we are sportsmen enough to realize that on the given day someone else might be better."

Munich is seeking to become the first city to stage both summer and winter games. Plans call for much of the 1972 Olympic Park to be used in 2018 if the city wins the bid.

German officials stress that Munich would keep the Olympic legacy alive for decades by combining old venues with new facilities. Right now, Munich's athletic legacy has a tragic resonance: The 1972 Games were overshadowed by the attack by Palestinian gunmen on the Israeli team that left 11 Israelis dead.

The city's plan for 2018 calls for repurposing some of the spots used decades ago. In one of the quirkier ideas, Munich would turn the '72 swimming arena into the curling venue by emptying the pool of water and laying a surface of ice.

The iconic 1972 Olympic stadium would stage the opening and the closing ceremonies.

Munich highlights its concept of "games by athletes for athletes," and has singled out Germany's passion for winter sports.

"We haven't hosted winter games in 80 years," said Bach, who believes it is time to return the event to its roots.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a 90-minute train ride from Munich, hosted the 1936 Winter Olympics. Under Munich's plans, it would stage Alpine skiing and other snow events in 2018.

Munich would host ice events, while luge and bobsled would be staged at the sliding center at Koenigssee, a lake near Munich.

The Munich bid ran into trouble when a group land owners in Garmisch-Partenkirchen refused to cede their properties, which are vital for the downhill course, the glamor event of Alpine skiing.

But the dispute now has been settled with the last holdout reaching a deal with the organizers. Olympic supporters also won a referendum in Garmisch-Partekirchen in favor of the Olympics. Critics say the games would be too big for the area and expressed ecological concerns.

The bid already enjoyed strong support from the federal government, a fact noted highly during the IOC evaluation commission's visit to the Bavarian capital in March.

The three candidates made presentations to the IOC in Lausanne, Switzerland, in May and Munich officials feel they came out with improved prospects.

"We are very optimistic," said Katarina Witt, the chairwoman of the bid committee and the former two-time figure skating Olympic champion. "We are sure that Lausanne has brought us many points."

"In Lausanne, we realized how seriously our bid is considered," Bach said.

The Germans believe that the country's booming economy could also be a factor in their favor, along with an excellent track record of organizing sports events — including the 2006 World Cup, and dozens of international events in various sports every winter.

This is a nation full of sports enthusiasts and winter sports enjoy huge support in Germany, where blanket television coverage during the cold-weather months can stretch over 12 hours daily. Top athletes in biathlon, luge, bobsled and ski jumping enjoy nationwide star status.

Public opinion polls quoted by the bid committee say the games are supported by 75 percent of the population.

Munich boasts a number of high-end hotels, a broad entertainment industry and excellent infrastructure, a factor not to be neglected in the IOC voting process. Many of the IOC members have little experience in winter sports. Munich also has one of Germany's two main air hubs along with numerous high-speed rail links and an autobahn connection to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

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AP Sports Writer Nesha Starcevic contributed from Frankfurt, Germany.

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