By GREG AUMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 13, 2001
No sporting event brings a more global audience than the Olympics, and as the world waits to see which city will be awarded the 2008 Games today, all five contenders have used the Internet to show the world a little more about their cities.
A poll with more than 11,000 responses at CNN.com had Toronto leading Beijing, with 48 and 33 percent, respectively. The only votes that matter today, however, are from the International Olympic Committee, which came two votes shy of awarding Beijing the 2000 Olympics in 1993. That is where we'll start our tour of today's finalists:
WWW.BEIJING-2008.ORG: The consensus favorite has a strong site, with easy navigation and parallels in English, French and Spanish. The Beijing bid has faced controversy on many issues and the site handles them in various ways.
A "Green Beijing" page touts environmental reform programs such as an 80 percent reduction in emissions, and a "Facts" page is forthright about air quality, explaining that only 45 percent of days in 2000 were designated "good" or "excellent" under current standards. Without mentioning animal rights concerns, the site curiously featured a large photo of "Small Animal Lovers in Beijing" on its main page Thursday.
The site's banner proudly states that 400-million young Chinese participate in the Olympics (though most, truthfully, by watching on TV), and a wide variety of Chinese athletes are profiled, including the NBA's Wang Zhizhi, soccer star Sun Wen and diver Fu Mingxia, a four-time gold medalist.
TO-2008.COM: Toronto's site, offered in English, Spanish and French, touts the city's "Convenience, Experience, Commitment and Diversity."
There are impressive numbers all over -- a public transportation system that moves 500-million people a year, a proposal with 74 percent of venues and infrastructure already in place, and 169 countries represented in the city's population.
PARIS2008.FR: With Athens already set for 2004, Paris' bid faces the tough challenge of having back-to-back Olympics on the same continent, but the site seems up to the task.
An interactive map shows venues, including beach volleyball at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and tennis at Roland Garros. The site has French and English versions, but if you want to vote "Oui" as requested, you'll get Paris 2008 vous remercie pour votre soutien, which translates to thanks for your support.
WWW.OSAKA-OLYM.OR.JP: The Japanese site, which has mirrored versions in English, French and Spanish, has not one but two Official Olympic Bid Songs ready for downloading. The city is promoted as a "Sports Paradise," though the only other major event listed for Osaka from 2004-08 is an annual junior tennis world championship.
OLYMPIST.ORG: Istanbul is a 66-to-1 long shot for the bid according to one London bookmaker, so its site (available in English and Turkish) is naturally not too flashy. It deserves praise for providing pages on other candidates, and for a "Did You Know?" link that boasts Istanbul as the world's only city to span two continents.
FOUR MORE YEARS: Looking ahead, it's mildly encouraging that florida2012.org is the second site that comes up when "2012 Olympics" is typed in at search engine Google.com. Of course, a news story linked on the Florida site's main page says that staff members "are in Sydney, experiencing firsthand" the Olympics that ended, um, nine months ago.
Another headline accidentally refers to "Florida 2102," which for the record would have to be a bid for the Winter Olympics.
Sites don't necessarily have to promote a city's bid -- one odd one, hobil.com, standing for Houston Olympic Bid Is (A) Loser, explains why the 2012 Games won't be in Houston. GLOBAL TID-BYTES: Observations from two weeks in Europe, remarkably void of any e-mail checking: Just one block from the picturesque Spanish Steps in Rome, an Internet cafe offers not only good bruschetta, but also online access for just 6,000 lire (about $3) for a half-hour.
That's a deal, especially compared with the 24-hour "Net Center" on a Mediterranean cruise ship, which charged 75 cents a minute, still a fraction of the $6-a-minute rate for phone calls back to the United States.
-- If you have a question or comment about the Internet or a site to suggest, e-mail staff writer Greg Auman at firstname.lastname@example.org.