The vote for the right to host the 2018 Winter Olympics is just two days away.
At the 123rd IOC Session in Durban, South Africa, on Wednesday, years of bid preparation and presentations will finally reach their climax for three cities: Pyeongchang, South Korea; Munich, Germany; and Annecy, France.
Of course, this time there's a few wrinkles in the mix for the IOC. As with every Olympics vote, the political jockeying and symbolism attached always factors into not only future Olympics but the expansion of the Olympic brand into territories the IOC has its revenue-hungry eyes on (step right up, Asia and, soon enough, Africa).
Yet this time around, all three cities are motivated by factors beyond just the prestige of hosting an Olympics. There's also a perception that, unlike many other bid processes, the 2018 Winter Olympic bids are a lot more about rewarding perseverance and putting to rest past failures. All three bids carry a burden of history this time, with only one bid to emerge victorious.
So where do the bids stand right now?
The frontrunner: Pyeongchang. This South Korean resort town is gunning hard for the Winter Olympics, especially after losing to Vancouver for 2010 and Sochi for 2014. The city's residents are overwhelmingly supportive of the bid, with multiple Olympic-quality venues already built and ready to go.
Why it'll win: The IOC is keen to keep the Olympic brand expanding into lucrative Asian markets, especially with sports-crazy South Korea in mind. The Koreans also have prior experience hosting a very successful modern Olympics with the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, as well as the fact the Olympics have a major sponsor in Samsung, a Korea-based company. Plus, for purely sentimental reasons, it's the town's third straight run at a Winter Games. Popular support is enormous.
Why it'll lose: If IOC President Dr. Jacques Rogge is to be believed over his remarks that the 2018 Winter Olympics' winning continent might also have a real shot at the 2020 Summer Olympics, a lot of European and North American IOC members might balk at the idea of awarding an Olympics in a time zone notoriously bad for Western television audiences. Some people also feel mainland Europe should get another Games. With political tensions still high in the Korean Peninsula, the IOC might be nervous to give the Games to a region rife with instability. Tokyo's proposed bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics — a bid loaded with financial and political symbolism, especially in the wake of 2011's devastating earthquake in Japan — might sway voters away.
If you're a gambler: A solid bet and likely winner on July 6.
The challenger: Munich. If selected to host the 2018 Winter Olympics, Munich will become the first Olympic city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics. A bid that stresses environmentalism, Munich is incorporating venues used in the 1972 Summer Olympics, as well as mountain resort facilities from the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
Why it'll win: The Munich bid has been reviewed as the technically strongest bid of all three finalist cities. Germany's legacy as a powerhouse sports nation, along with a strong base of European and North American supporters on the IOC, will be a big benefit on voting day. World-class facilities are already in place, as well as tremendous support from all levels of government and huge financial backing from numerous German corporations. A far better bet than Pyeongchang when it comes to live coverage for North American TV audiences.
Why it'll lose: IOC members may be uneasy about giving an Olympics to mainland Europe after London 2012 and Sochi 2014. Public support in Germany for a 2018 Games is still strong but has dipped over the past two years and is not as strong as Pyeongchang.
If you're a gambler: Just barely trailing Pyeongchang, but who knows what might happen on Wednesday. Has a very real chance to win.
The underdog: Annecy. After several bid failures, France is going for the Games again with this small town near the French-Swiss border. The clear dark horse of Wednesday's vote, the French have a strong technical bid with vast public support for the bid. However, the bid has been rocked by controversy since former bid chair Edgar Grospiron quit last December over allegations of a lack of bid funds.
Why it'll win: Some believe France — a founding nation of the modern Olympic movement, some might argue the founder — is due, most notably after controversies regarding the 2012 Summer Olympics bid process. Strong popular support, terrific winter weather and financial backing are all assets for the bid. IOC member support for France is very strong.
Why it'll lose: Sharp criticism of the Pyeongchang bid's financial backing by Samsung and Munich's reliance on Garmisch-Partenkirchen facilities (an approximately 90-minute drive from Munich) in recent days by Annecy bid chair Charles Beigbeder hasn't endeared the Annecy team to many. The notoriously closed-door IOC doesn't look kindly on public declarations by bid teams. General sentiment is that the bid's early organizational problems have hurt Annecy's chances.
If you're a gambler: A long shot, but not entirely out of the question.