PRAGUE, Czech Republic The Olympics are returning to North America in 2010, to a scenic Pacific coast city beneath snowcapped mountains.
By a mere three votes, Vancouver was selected Wednesday as the host of the Winter Games, taking the Olympics to Canada for the first time since 1988 and perhaps hurting New York's bid for the 2012 Games.
''It was a photo finish,'' Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said. ''That's what is so great about sport. But winning is winning. I just want to guarantee everybody that it will be a great success.''
The vote was closer than expected, with outsider Pyeongchang, South Korea, nearly pulling off a stunning upset in the first round of secret balloting by International Olympic Committee members.
The election wasn't without controversy several members didn't vote, which could have swung the result the other way. The IOC said it was unsure why.
With a simple majority needed for victory, Pyeongchang got 51 votes in the first round, followed by Vancouver with 40 and Salzburg with 16. But Vancouver picked up Salzburg's votes in the next round and defeated Pyeongchang 56-53.
The words that Canada had waited to hear came from IOC president Jacques Rogge, who opened a white envelope and declared: ''The International Olympic Committee has the honor of announcing that the 21st Olympic Winter Games are awarded to the city of Vancouver.''
Awarding the 2010 Games to North America leaves Europe in a strong position for the 2012 Summer Olympics at the expense of New York. Some members say back-to-back games in North America are unlikely.
''It's not complicated,'' said senior Italian member Mario Pescante, head of the European Olympic Committees. ''With five countries interested in the Summer Games, the majority of European IOC members preferred to have games outside Europe. This is a very political vote in view of the summer games.''
Paris, London, Madrid, Moscow, among others, are in the running for the 2012 Games.
Rogge disputed any 2010-2012 trade-off.
''We had two consecutive games in 2004 and 2006,'' he said. ''There have been many other examples. This so-called continental rotation, we don't believe in that.''
Officials working on New York's bid were quick to say they didn't believe Vancouver's selection would hurt the city's chances.
''We really didn't feel like we had a stake in the outcome here,'' said Dan Doctoroff, the leader of New York's 2012 bid. ''Ultimately we've got to do the job in 2005. Between winter and summer, there's no evidence that it's ever made any difference whatsoever.''
Vancouver, whose ''Sea to Sky Games'' concept plans for events in the city and the ski resort of Whistler, had been considered the front-runner.
The announcement was greeted with huge cheers from Vancouver boosters in the convention hall in Prague. And in Vancouver, wild cheering and flag-waving erupted among those gathered at a downtown arena.
''Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God! We did it!'' screamed Jennifer Goepel, 28, her face painted like the red and white Canadian flag.
Vancouver was a top pick on technical merits alone. A recent IOC report gave Vancouver the best overall review, with high marks for its plans for sports venues, accommodations and financing.
Canada's understated campaign focused on the technical strengths of its proposal, with most indoor venues in Vancouver and ski and sliding events at Whistler.
''We made a decision that our program was going to be 100 percent about athletes and sport,'' bid president John Furlong said. ''That's what we think tipped the scales for us.''
Canada has hosted two previous Olympics the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal and 1988 Winter Games in Calgary.
The games of 2004 (Athens, summer) and 2006 (Turin, Italy, winter) are being held in Europe and 2008 (Beijing, summer) in Asia, leaving North America in line for 2010.
Vancouver's selection was welcomed by NBC, which won the U.S. television rights to the 2010 and 2012 Olympics last month for just over $2 billion. ''We're delighted with a win in the North American continent because it will allow much of the events to be shown live in prime time,'' NBC sports chief Dick Ebersol said. ''It's like having a Games at home.''
Ebersol said the time difference in Vancouver, three hours earlier than the East Coast, shouldn't be a problem. He said organizers could schedule finals from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. (9 p.m.-midnight in the East.)
Wednesday's biggest surprise was the showing by Pyeongchang, the least known of the three bidders.
Of 111 ballots distributed in the first round, only 107 were cast. In the second round, 109 out of 112 eligible voters cast ballots. Had the missing four votes in the first round gone to Pyeongchang, the South Korean city would have won with a majority of 55. Had it received the extra three votes in the second round, the two cities would have tied 56-56.
The Koreans scored points with a strong presentation stressing how the games could promote winter sports in Asia and bring peace on the divided Korean peninsula.
Cho Myung-soo, vice governor of Gangwon province, said he was disappointed. ''We will try again in 2014,'' he said.
Salzburg, which prided itself on its winter sports tradition and world-class venues, sustained a bitter defeat.
''We knew that we are not a favorite but we didn't expect to fall out after the first vote,'' Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel said. ''There are many reasons for that ... the geographical and geopolitical situation.''
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