Beijing, Almaty in final showdown for 2022 Games
Favourites Beijing and Almaty staged their final pleas to the International Olympic Committee on Friday, using political and sporting heavyweights to win the right to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Underdog Almaty made lightly veiled attacks on China`s sprawling bid and reliance on artificial snow in its final presentation to the IOC before Beijing makes its case in the campaign for votes from the 86 IOC members who will cast secret ballots on the Games later Friday.
Kazakhstan has surged back into contention in recent months with the campaign slogan of "Keeping it Real".
"We are a golden opportunity to prove that smaller advancing nations can successfully host the Olympic Games," Kazakhstan Prime Minister Karim Massimov told the IOC.
The former Kazakh capital would stage "a games that are centred on the needs of athletes and sport not on the needs of (the) host country`s global image", said Andrey Kryukov, vice chairman of the Almaty bid committee.
"In Almaty, there will be no bus, train or car rides for hours to reach or return from faraway mountain venues."
Some of China`s proposed venues are up to 200 kilometres (125 miles) from Beijing, but it will use iconic facilities such as the Bird`s Nest national stadium built for the 2008 Summer Olympics, and most of the snow sports would be held against a backdrop of the Great Wall of China.
All of Almaty`s venues are within 30 kilometres (18 miles) of the city, which the delegation portrayed as a "winter wonderland".
China, because of its political and economic clout and its experience hosting the 2008 Games, is the strong favourite because many IOC members consider it a "safe bet".
Olympic fever mounted in Beijing on decision day.
"The delegation will present to the whole world Beijing`s capacity and confidence to host the 2022 Winter Olympics," said the Beijing News daily.Special entertainment was scheduled at the Bird`s Nest to coincide with the announcement of the result, due at about 0930 GMT.
Former NBA player and Houston Rockets centre Yao Ming was to be the centrepiece of the Chinese presentation to the IOC, promising to spread the appeal of winter sports in the rising world power.
Beijing wants to become the first city ever to stage the Summer and Winter Games.
Six cities were originally in the race to follow 2018 hosts Pyeongchang in South Korea.
But after Russia spent more than $50 billion to stage the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Oslo, Stockholm, Krakow in Poland and Lviv in Ukraine all withdrew because of cost fears and local politics.
IOC president Thomas Bach told AFP ahead of the vote that there were still "excellent" candidates and that he was not disappointed that only two cities were left.
It is the smallest number of cities in the final vote since Lake Placid in the United States won the 1980 Winter Games unopposed.
"We had just three candidates for the last Winter Games. Due to geographical reasons there are only three continents in the world that can organise a Winter Games," Bach said.
Bach has passed reforms aiming to bring down the cost and administrative burden of hosting the Games as well as making them more environmentally friendly.
After the largesse of Sochi, Almaty has estimated a budget of $3.6 billion and said 70 percent of the venues are already built. Beijing has said it will spend $3.06 billion, but that does not include an estimated $5 billion for a high-speed train from Beijing to Zhangjiakou, where many of the events will be held.
Both countries have human rights records that have been condemned by activist groups, but human rights have not played a major role in the public debate for the 2022 Games.