Toronto's hopes to host the 2008 Olympics were dashed Friday as the International Olympic Committee awarded the games to Beijing.

"The Games of the 29th Olympiad in 2008 are awarded to the city of Beijing," IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch announced before a packed Moscow conference hall, in a decision broadcast live to listeners and viewers around the world.

China shot into the lead with 56 votes to Toronto's 22 during the second ballot. Paris got 18 votes and Istanbul 9. Osaka was dropped off the ballot after the first round of voting. Fifty-three votes were needed to win.

In Beijing, jubilant crowds jammed into Tiananmen Square in the heart of the city to celebrate. Hundreds of thousands of people cheered and waved flags as fireworks lit up the nighttime sky.

Secretary general of the Beijing bid committee Wang Wei told reporters his delegation was very excited and very tired.

"Our efforts have paid off," he said, beaming. "The world has come to understand Beijing and China better. If we build more bridges, I think we can resolve our differences."

Toronto supporters dejected

The news was met with disappointment in downtown Toronto, where thousands of people had gathered to watch the announcement live from Moscow on huge television screens. The crowd groaned when the decision was announced.

"Heartbreaking," said one woman in the crowd. "But we gave it our very best."

"When we made it past the first round I thought we were gonna go, I really did," said another supporter wistfully.

Some anti-Olympic activists in Toronto cheered at the news. Said Jan Borowy, from the group Bread Not Circuses, "We feel very strongly that the Olympics bring a negative impact whichever city they land in, like a tornado."

Toronto's loss is also a boost for Vancouver, which is bidding for 2010 winter Olympics. A win by another Canadian city would have virtually wiped out their chances.

China's bid compelling

China was the sentimental favourite, openly preferred by outgoing IOC President Samaranch.

"Beijing was just too strong," Canadian IOC member Paul Henderson told CBC TV's Brian Williams. "Beijing had to make a mistake, a major mistake... If they made a mistake, Toronto had a chance."

Toronto bid officials conceded that the fact that China is the world's most populous country and that it could bring the games to its 400 million youths was a compelling factor.

"It was a very powerful argument. We knew that from the beginning," said Bob Richardson, the bid's chief operating officer. "We're obviously disappointed but we think we fought a great fight."

Bid chair John Bitove said he began to fear the worst during Beijing's glossy presentation to the committee earlier Friday. He said the show hit all the emotional high points, reinforcing that a China win would be a historical first.

There were no questions about human rights following the presentation. During the presentation Beijing's mayor said granting China the games would help it improve the cause of human rights as well as help raise the standard of living in the country.

Toronto's final presentation stressed the multicultural nature of the city's bid.

The committee presented Toronto as a safe, multicultural city ready and able to put on the Games. The 45-minute multimedia show included native drummers, politicians and athletes speaking in three languages.