SINGAPORE -- Britain vs. France. Blair vs. Chirac. Two historic rival cities convinced they were long overdue.
London prevailed -- upsetting Paris to secure the 2012 Olympics.
The British capital overcame its cross-Channel opponent 54-50 Wednesday on the fourth ballot of the International Olympic Committee vote, capping the most glamorous and hotly contested bid race in Olympic history.
|British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in Scotland for the G-8 summit, made a big push for London's bid. (AP)|
London got the Olympics for the first time since 1948, while Paris was frustrated for a third time in 20 years. It hasn't held the Games since 1924.
Paris had been the front-runner throughout the campaign, but London picked up momentum in the late stages with strong support from Prime Minister Tony Blair.
"Many people do reckon that London is the greatest city in the whole world at the moment," an exultant Blair said after hearing the result in Gleneagles, Scotland, where he is hosting the G-8 summit.
Blair, who spent two days lobbying in Singapore this week, said he "couldn't bear to watch" the vote on TV and only heard the result when he received a call from the switchboard at his Downing Street office in London.
"This is a momentous day for London," he said.
London's victory handed Paris a third stinging Olympic defeat in 20 years, following failed bids for the 1992 and 2008 Olympics. Paris hasn't hosted the games since 1924.
"I'll put all my energy into our recovery, so that we know how to make something big and positive out of this ordeal," Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe said.
IOC president Jacques Rogge opened a sealed envelope and declared the result in a live televised ceremony: "The International Olympic Committee has the honor of announcing that the Games of the 30th Olympiad in 2012 are awarded to the city of London."
The tan-suited London delegates in the convention hall leaped out of their seats, arms raised in jubilation and cheering wildly.
In London, crowds cheered and waved flags as they watched the announcement from Singapore on a giant screen in Trafalgar Square, and in the east London area where the main Olympic complex will be based.
"I'm absolutely ecstatic, we have the opportunity to do what we always dreamed about, getting more young people into sport," London bid leader Sebastian Coe said. "This is our moment. It's massive. It's huge. This is the biggest prize in sport."
Even England soccer captain David Beckham got into the act.
"In 2012, I can take my children to an Olympics which we might never had had the chance to do," he said. "This is such a huge lift for our country."
Rogge expressed delight with London's victory.
"We are very, very pleased with the victory of London," he said. "People we trust, people we know will give us a superb games."
Rogge, a former Olympic sailor, recalled meeting Coe for the first time in the athletes' village in Moscow in 1980. That's where Coe won his first gold medal.
"We couldn't have dreamed at the time that we would, 25 years later, be signing the host city contract," Rogge said.
Paris had the perceived advantage of bidding for a third time, especially since the IOC tends to reward persistence. The French capital also had a ready-to-go Olympic stadium in the Stade de France and embraced the IOC's blueprint for controlling the size and cost of the Games.
But not even a personal appearance in Singapore by French President Jacques Chirac could secure victory.
The eliminations in the first three rounds came as no surprise. Moscow was always considered the long shot, with New York and Madrid outsiders. Moscow went out with 15 votes in the first round, New York dropped out next with 16, then Madrid with 31.
Despite being a favorite, Paris never led throughout the voting. The first round was tight, with London getting 22 votes, Paris 21, Madrid 20 and New York 19. Madrid took the lead in the second round with 32 votes, followed by London with 27 and Paris 25. London then picked up a big chunk of New York's votes to lead Paris 39-33 in the third round. With Madrid's votes split fairly evenly in the last round, London had enough to win.
"I'm sorry New York didn't get it, but I'm thrilled for London," President Bush said as he arrived at the G-8 summit.
Part of London's pitch was that it stepped in to help the Olympic movement by staging the games while Europe was still recovering from World War II.
But members said London also won favor because its bid offered a long-term legacy, and they cited Coe's charisma and passion and the appeal of his team's final presentation to the IOC.
"Two different strategies -- the French and the British," Dutch member Anton Geesink said. "The British, they explained their love of the sport. It is a love affair for Sebastian Coe, that was the difference. Love you can explain, but you can't sell it."
Senior Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper said London won because of the way it sold its message in the final hours.
"They delivered on the day," he said. "The presentation just had that little extra feel."
London centered its bid on the massive urban renewal of a dilapidated area of East London. It was the fourth bid from Britain after failed attempts by Birmingham for the 1992 Olympics and Manchester for 1996 and 2000.
London got off to a slow start but made big strides under Coe, who replaced American businesswoman Barbara Cassani as head of the bid in May 2004. Coe has said he will stay on to head the organizing committee for 2012.