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Canadians hint of 'risk' at other possible Olympic sites

By Bill Delaney
CNN Boston Bureau Chief

TORONTO, Canada (CNN) -- By calling themselves -- repeatedly -- the "risk-free" choice for the 2008 Olympics, Canadian officials do beg a question.

Who is the "risk?"

Well, one doesn't have to read too hard between the lines to hazard a guess. Beijing, China, long the apparent front-runner for this Olympics sweepstakes, would seem to be, by implication, the riskier prospect in the minds of many Canadians.

Officials studiously avoid getting too specific about all this risk stuff, though -- not suggesting out-loud, for example, that China's technological and communications infrastructure might not be up to Canadian standards. And as for human rights in China -- like those allegations of 1,700 executions in just the last three months -- again, the Canadians are not commenting.

There's a lot at stake, but the aggressive -- though careful -- etiquette of pushing Toronto's Olympic bid does not seem to include making too brazen a point of a competitor's weak points.

Still, Canadian officials insist they are coming on strong in the waning days before the Friday decision. Quietly, some do suggest Canada's basic stability -- as compared to China's uncertainties -- might be a selling point.

More shouted from the rooftops, Canadians trumpet the fact that theirs is the most athlete-driven Olympic plan ever. That's one reason, they say, that their Olympic venue on the shore of Lake Ontario would be one of the most compact ever. The vast majority of events would take place in just six kilometers or so -- or about 3 1/2 miles -- of renovated waterfront.

Most athletes would be able to walk to their events, an idea that most athletes love. That would be a far cry from the relative chaos of a site like Atlanta, where athletes wore themselves out waiting for buses to get them to events. The athlete-centered approach is also much in evidence in Moscow, where the red-suited Canadian champions (slash salespeople) are more prominent than the athletes of any other country.

With seven years to go, though, perhaps Canada's prime selling point is that it's already ready. Well, about 74 percent ready, at least -- which is how much of the Olympic venues officials say have already been built along the lake. That project is incorporated into the city's already underway, billion-dollar renovation of its waterfront.

And the Canadians are also showcasing Toronto's 2.4-million population, which they say is the most ethnically diverse in the world.

With more than 150 ethnic groups, and 100 languages, officials say virtually every nation that would field an Olympic team would have fans living in Toronto. The Canadians, in any event, are convinced it has all now boiled down to a decision between them and China. Paris, Istanbul and Osaka, the Canadians believe, are out of the running. And Toronto, they fervently believe, has the best kick now that everyone is entering the home stretch.

• The Official Web Site of Toronto's Bid for the 2008 Olympic Games

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