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NEWS FEATURE Same goal but different concepts as Almaty, Beijing seek 2022 Games By John Bagratuni, dpa

Germany
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Almaty and Beijing offer different concepts in their bids for the 2022 Winter Olympics, and IOC members may have a clearer picture of which candidate to elect on July 31 after a round of presentations from both cities.

Lausanne, Switzerland (dpa) - As far as the athletes in their delegations are concerned, both Almaty and Beijing offer great conditions to host the 2022 Winter Olympics - despite vast differences in their concepts.

Sochi 2014 figure skating bronze medallist Denis Ten highlighted the winter sport tradition of the Kazakh bid city of Almaty and singled out the skating rink in Medeu where speed skating world records used to tumble in the Soviet era.

"This is really a historical place," Ten said. "The arena itself will be completely renovated. So it will be a suitable, amazing and comfortable for all the athletes from around the world."

Almaty highlighted a compact bid to members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) during presentations Tuesday and Wednesday, also noting that it has natural snow in abundance.

Beijing meanwhile cannot offer the same but can use some of its 2008 Games venues and, according to its two time Olympic short track skating champion Yang Yang, having three clusters - two of them some 150 kilometres away from Beijing - is no problem either.

"The athletes‘ experience is a top priority. The most important aspect to ensure this is the performance. We will minimise travel time, the three zones will help athletes have a short distance to their competition," said Yang Yang who is now an IOC member.

Almaty and Beijing were the lone candidates after the likes of Stockholm and Oslo dropped out while planned bids by Munich and St Moritz were stopped by referendums.

IOC president Thomas Bach highlighted the differences after both had made presentations before 85 IOC members present at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne and answered their questions - with meetings concluding Wednesday in the adjacent Palace Hotel.

"Almaty plans to develop a traditional winter sports centre, and leave the lasting legacy of transforming the region. On the other hand, Beijing showed excellent use of the 2008 legacy, and also plans to create a sporting legacy by giving more than 300 million Chinese access to winter sports," Bach said.

Bach and both bid teams said that they are acting according to the recently adopted Olympic Agenda 2020 under which Games are to become cheaper and more sustainable.

It somewhat fitted this declared new openness and transparency that while the presentations took place behind closed doors IOC members and bid delegations then came across the regular museum visitors in the lobby, with school children from several countries curious to see what all the fuss was about.

International ski federation chief Gian Franco Kasper noted after the presentations that "both were prepared very well, very professional ... Both are possible for us."

But it is not so much the athletes‘ statements that will determine the host city vote of the IOC members on July 31 at the Session in Kuala Lumpur but rather the general ability to host such a complex event as the Olympics.

An IOC evaluation committee which visited the bidders voiced certain risks on each side in its report published last week.

But Kazakhstan‘s Prime Minister Karim Massimov dismissed financial and accommodation concerns by pledging full government guarantees such as through a national fund currently stated at 75 billion dollars, and growing despite fluctuations of the oil price.

The Chinese are as upbeat, coming up with detailed reassurances that making snow will pose no problem and that the nation is engaged in wide-ranged programmes to curb pollution.

Human rights were reportedly no issue during the presentations despite various concerns from rights groups around both bidders, such as freedom of expression and the ongoing Tibet issue, and that China has made no progress on human rights after the 2008 Games.

"The IOC faces a devil‘s alternative, finding itself forced to choose between two cities - Beijing and Almaty, both in countries with abysmal human rights records," a recent report by Tibet activist groups said.

The revised host city contract outlaws discrimination in any form and Almaty bid commission vice chairman Andrey Kryukov pledged that "we confirm and respect the Olympic Charter."

Almaty was seen as catching up on favoured Beijing through the so-called "technical presentations" which took place for the third time in this form to give IOC members a chance to look closely into the candidates after no longer being allowed to visit them in the wake of the Salt Lake City Games bribes for votes scandal.

"It is better to see it one time than hearing about it 100 times," Kryukov said.

A new element in the proceedings was out of the hands of the bidders, as Olympians also met with the relevant sports federations and the 2022 IOC evaluation commission to get further details of the bids.

"I think this innovation was a great success. We had an excellent discussion with more than two dozen questions and an exchange of opinions," Bach told reporters afterwards.

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