CHICAGO -- Whether it's the picturesque views of San Francisco or the powerful story of New York, the United States is confident it has a winner.
San Francisco and New York beat out Houston and Washington, D.C., on Tuesday when a U.S. Olympic Committee task force chose two finalists to be the American candidate for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
''We are very confident we will bring the games to the United States in 2012,'' said Charles H. Moore, a former Olympic gold medalist who heads the bid evaluation task force.
''I think the chances are very good for either one.''
The U.S. Olympic Committee's board of directors will pick the 2012 candidate at a Nov. 3 meeting. Then comes the international competition, where things really get serious.
As many as a dozen cities -- including possibly Toronto, Rome, Paris, Moscow, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil -- are expected to be in the mix. The International Olympic Committee will pick the host in 2005.
''New York offers the Olympic movement the chance to tell a powerful Olympic story,'' said Dan Doctoroff, New York's deputy mayor for economic development and former head of NYC 2012. ''It represents the best of what the Olympics is all about, an international city where various nationalities interact peacefully every day.''
Over the past 15 months, the task force spent hundreds of hours visiting cities and analyzing bids. Members gave the final four cities a scorecard, using a scale of one to 10 to grade various factors ranging from venues to environmental impact.
The biggest portion of the ranking -- 54 percent -- was based on the IOC's criteria for host cities. Another 15 percent was related to the financial stability of the bid. The final 31 percent was something Moore called ''what it takes to win.''
The rankings were converted into ordinals for Tuesday's meeting, where task force members pitted the cities against each other for the first time. That was too close to determine a winner, so Moore said it ultimately came down to international strategy and appeal.
Finally, after being holed up in a 10th-floor suite for half the day Tuesday, the task force decided on the two finalists. It wasn't unanimous, but Moore said there was a consensus.
He would not reveal either the scores or the final vote.
''Washington and Houston did not fall down,'' Moore insisted. ''This was a question of riches, and picking the two cities we felt have the best chance of winning the international competition.''
The task force originally planned to tell the bid cities privately, but decided instead to announce the decision at a nationally televised press conference. As Moore announced New York and San Francisco, someone yelled, ''Yes!'' while half a country away, boosters in San Francisco jumped out of their chairs and screamed.
''I can't believe it,'' said a teary-eyed Suzy Jones Roy, a 1968 Olympian. ''New York got it, and to be followed by San Francisco was exciting news.''
But while those two cities celebrated, Washington watched in stunned silence. The nation's capital had been considered by many to be a favorite, with a plan that centered most of the venues in an Olympic park similar that of the Sydney Games.
''Yes, we were surprised. Maybe shocked is the right word, and clearly disappointed,'' said Dan Knise, president of Washington DC 2012.
''We put forth a great bid and we can hold our heads high,'' he added.
Washington's bid may have been tainted by the Salt Lake City bribery scandal. Congress held hearings after it was discovered that Salt Lake City organizers had plied IOC members with more than $1 million in gifts and scholarships, even grilling former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch.
New York and San Francisco both have wide international appeal, favorite destinations for American and foreign tourists. Both have a certain magic to them, too, whether it's the Golden Gate Bridge or the legacy of being home to the American dream.
Though New York still needs to build or renovate many of its venues, Moore said it got high marks for its infrastructure. New York is the nation's largest city, and organizers say they're best equipped to handle and move large crowds.
All of the venues would be accessible by either rail or water, with organizers saying athletes would never even have to be on a roadway.
''Bring 'em here,'' Ann Solomon, a secretary from Queens, said after hearing New York was a finalist. ''The city can handle anything. We handled the 11th, didn't we? We can handle this, too.''
New York also touts its diversity and immigrant history, likening it to the Olympic movement itself.
''In the end, I think the reason we're one of the two is that they looked around at eight million New Yorkers and they realized this is the city that best represents the Olympics,'' Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
''And this is the city where we have safety, where we have transportation, where we have facilities, where we have a can-do attitude, where the people would love to have people from around the world come.''
San Francisco's weather, waterfront and scenic vistas are the highlights of its bid, which has a budget of $2.4 billion. Organizers hope to use the Golden Gate Bridge as a signature emblem, the way Sydney's Opera House was used during the 2000 Summer Olympics.
Though it initially spread venues from the Bay Area to Sacramento, organizers reorganized their plan over the last few months and moved several sites. Now 92 percent of the venues would be within 32 miles of the Olympic Village.
Regardless of whether New York or San Francisco is chosen as the finalist, the U.S. entrant might be a long shot with the IOC. The United States has hosted two Olympics in the past six years, and the IOC might want to go somewhere new.
Also, Vancouver, British Columbia, is a favorite for the 2010 Winter Games, and the IOC might hesitate to put two games in North America so close to each other.
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