Ever since Toronto finished third in the contest for the 2008 Summer Olympics, which was won by Beijing, Vancouver has been touted as a frontrunner in the race for the 2010 Winter Olympics, with its crown jewel being the Whistler resort area as the venue for skiing events.
The International Olympic Committee made it official Wednesday, naming Vancouver to the shortlist of bid cities along with Salzburg (Austria), Pyeongchang (South Korea) and Bern (Switzerland).
"We're delighted," Jack Poole, the Vancouver bid corporation's chairman and chief executive officer, said in Vancouver. "We're not terribly surprised. We suspected all along we would survive the short list and we did."
IOC president Jacques Rogge arrives for Wednesday's announcement. (AP Photo)
There was some speculation that Vancouver and Salzburg were so far ahead of the pack that the IOC would have whittled its shortlist down to just those two cities, but it opted to keep the race open, and the inclusion of Pyeongchang spreads the competition across three continents, including the massive emerging markets of East Asia.
It also means that four cities instead of two have to hand over a non-refundable cheque for $500,000 (US) to the IOC for the right to remain in the race.
"Up until today we didn't exist," Poole said. "Now it's very clear who is in the race. We're in a four-country race. We know what we have to do and now we have 10 months to get it done." The IOC rejected bids from the tiny European country of Andorra, Harbin, China, 1984 Winter Olympic host Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Jaca, Spain didn't make the cut.
The four chosen cities now have until Jan. 10, 2003 to submit their candidate file to the IOC. Each file will be analyzed in detail by the IOC Evaluation Commission before a final decision is made on the 2010 host city at an IOC meeting in Prague in July 2003.
In the run-up to Wednesday's announcement, Salzburg was considered the strongest contender aside from Vancouver, thanks to the city's rich cultural history and Austria's winter sports heritage and continuing dominance in sports like alpine skiing.
On a scale from one to 10, with 10 being the best, a benchmark of six was set for candidate cities. Vancouver and Salzburg were deemed above that benchmark while Bern and Pyeongchang were found to "straddle" it.
While Vancouver was praised for its projected venues, its plans for an Olympic Village, its efforts to limit environmental impact and its track record in hosting major international sporting events, the IOC cited concerns over the "Sea-to-Ski" highway linking Vancouver to Whistler and the "availability of human resources to carry out ongoing daily public safety and security activities."
"We're talking Winter Olympics here, we're talking mountains," Paul DeVillers, secretary of state for amateur sports, told CBC Newsworld. "Highways are always an issue in Winter Olympic bids. I don't think too much should be made of the highway. I think the entire bid needs to be dealt with.
"There are some very competent people dealing with that issue and I'm sure when the final decision is made, all options will have been reviewed and put forward and the bid will stand in good stead, in spite of any issues including highways."
The IOC also voiced its misgivings about Bern and Pyeongchang, saying Bern's blueprint "does not best respond to the needs of the athletes and could create significant organization difficulties, while the Pyeongchang outline "requires further development." The four candidates that failed to make the cut were "mostly below or completely below" the benchmark.
"We were fairly confident that this was going to be the result, that Vancouver would be on the short list," said De Villers.
"So great news, we're very pleased. And congratulations to that (Vancouver bid) committee. They've done a terrific job."
Representatives of the other successful bids were equally buoyant with the release of Wednesday's news.
"Just last week, Austria experienced the worst natural disasters of the century, causing terrible suffering for many people," said Salzburg bid chief Egon Winkler, alluding to the catastrophic floods that swept through the historic city recently. "We hope that this decision by the IOC will help to bring added pride to many of our people."
Kim Nam-soo, managing director of the Pyeongchang bid, described himself as "pleased and proud." However, he was not specific when asked whether his city's bid will convincingly address the shortcomings cited by the IOC: "We will do our best," he said.
Those connected with the Bern bid also saw reason to celebrate.
"This is a clear confirmation that Switzerland has a convincing and feasible project," said the Swiss Olympic Committee.
The next step in the bidding process will be a five-day workshop at Lausanne, the home of the IOC's headquarters, beginning on Sept. 9 at which IOC officials will give representatives of the four finalist bids a catechism of IOC bidding regulations.
An IOC committee will then visit the four cities to compile a technical evaluation of the venues, financial plans, transportation infrastructure and other logistical matters. IOC members are prohibited from visiting the bid cities - part of the fallout of the Salt Lake City bid scandal. Considered by many observers to be the pivotal phase of the bid process, the IOC's technical delegation will tour Vancouver and Whistler between Feb. 15 and March 15.
The bid cities have until Jan. 10, 2003 to present the IOC with its bid book - a blueprint of up to 350 pages for their plans for staging the Games. Jan. 10 is also the first day on which the candidates can launch international promotional campaigns.
If it wins the race for the 2010 Games, Vancouver would join Montreal and Calgary as Canadian Olympic host cities, although it would want to emulate Calgary rather than the debt-ridden Montreal Summer Games of 1976.
By contrast, the 1988 Calgary Winter Games have been widely hailed as a success and left Canada with a legacy of world-class winter sports training and event facilities, such as the Olympic Oval, that has been host to a succession of speed-skating world records and the bobsleigh/luge/skeleton track at Canadian Olympic Park.
Hockey, figure skating, speed skating, curling, snowboarding and freestyle skiing would be held in Vancouver and Cypress Mountain, just outside the city. The Alpine, sliding, and Nordic skiing events would be held in the Whistler area.
The bidding process is projected to cost $34 million (Cdn) - a pittance next to the proposed operating budget of $2 billion, including $620 million from the provincial and federal government for the construction of venues and facilities. Organizers would also budget for a surplus of $100 million.
However, that operating budget does not factor in the $1 billion or so it would take to widen the notorious Sea-to-Ski Highway. A further $1.8 billion would be needed to connect the airport and the downtown with a light rail transit line, and there would also be the added cost of building a new convention centre, which would function as the media centre.
The deal-breaker for Vancouver would be the highway upgrades. If the Vancouver bid fails to secure guarantees of government funding for the massive project, its chances of success will be severely diminished.
"That has been identified by our opponents as an issue," said Poole. "We've asked our government to tell us what the solution will be."
Another proposed solution to the transportation dilemma would be to rent 20 ferries to carry spectators between Vancouver and Squamish, where a train or bus would connect them with Whistler.
The Vancouver bid detailed a number of capital projects related to event venues:
On the upside, the B.C. government estimated the Games could produce 228,000 jobs and $10 billion in Olympics-related activity.
Much of the prognosticating about the eventual winner of the 2010 bid race hinges on the IOC's unofficial policy of distributing the Games evenly across regions.
Aside from its setting and infrastructure, the Vancouver bid's reputed ace in the hole is the fact that the 2004 Summer Games (Athens) and 2006 Winter Games (Torino) will both be in Europe, and the 2008 Summer Games (Beijing) will be in Asia.
That would make North America the most likely continent to stage the 2010 Winter Games.
Here's the breakdown of the final four bid cities:
VANCOUVER Most observers felt that Toronto had very little chance of winning the 2008 Olympics in light of then-outgoing IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch's well-known preference for Beijing.
Still, promoters of Vancouver's bid had to feel a major boost to their cause when Beijing was named host of the 2008 Games; the odds of two North American cities, let alone two Canadian cities, hosting consecutive Olympics would have been negligible.
Hockey and skating events would be held in Vancouver with the Whistler-Blackcomb area - already a staple of FIS' World Cup circuits - would host the skiing events.
SALZBURG The recent floods that devastated much of Salzburg did little to dampen enthusiasm for hosting the Games. In fact, the television spectacle of a storied, beautiful city that was an incubator of so much European culture enduring a natural disaster could make Salzburg - which was already considered Vancouver's chief rival - a sentimental favourite.
BERN Bern is making Switzerland's fourth attempt for the Winter Games since 1969.
PYEONGCHANG Pyeongchang is in South Korea's mountainous eastern province of Kangwon, 180 kilometres from Seoul.
with files from Canadian Press