ANNECY, France (AP) — From a lack of funds to poor local support to the resignation of its bid leader, Annecy has faced a mountain of problems in its quest for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Despite all the renewed bid efforts over the last 12 months, the lakeside town in the heart of the French Alps remains an underdog ahead of the International Olympic Committee vote on July 6 in Durban, South Africa.
"We are in a far better situation now and we definitely can win this contest," bid leader Charles Beigbeder said in an interview with The Associated Press. "What really matters is the ability to bounce back and to go beyond the problems. We improved our lobbying and the bid funding. This race is not over."
Engaged in a three-way contest with Munich and Pyeongchang, South Korea, Annecy has been considered the outsider from the start of the selection process.
Following Paris' crushing failure in the race for the 2012 Olympics, French sporting officials decided that a bid for the 2018 Winter Games was a requirement to have a chance to win the 2020 or 2024 Summer Games.
That led to speculation that Annecy wasn't a serious contender itself, an impression underlined when the French candidate only narrowly made the list of three finalists last year after the IOC criticized the bid's spread-out venues.
The IOC warning — a "black eye," according to influential French IOC member Jean-Claude Killy — prompted Annecy officials to revamp their plans with a more centralized project around two main hubs, Annecy and Chamonix.
That setback cost considerable time at a crucial moment when officials should have started promoting their bid internationally instead of rethinking the whole project.
"I would have liked to join the bid a few months earlier," said Beigbeder, who replaced Edgar Grospiron as the bid chief after the former Olympic moguls skiing gold medalist resigned last December.
"I would have been able to take part to the bid presentations we did for the associations of national Olympic committees. But let's stop talking about the past. The bid has been revamped and is now considered an excellent project."
In its report evaluating the renewed bid plan in May, the IOC cited the "relatively spread out" layout of the four Olympic villages, saying it would pose "operational and transport challenges" for national Olympic committees.
"That reflects the fact that our bid is in the heart of the mountains," Beigbeder said. "But with our four Olympic villages and two main hubs, 80 percent of the athletes' journeys will last less than 10 minutes."
If Annecy gets the Olympics, its total games spending will be $5.2 billion — $1.85 billion earmarked for the organizing committee's budget, and $3.4 billion on infrastructure.
Despite strong government backing for the bid, Annecy has the smallest budget of the three finalists.
The lack of money led Grospiron to resign and Beigbeder was given the task of finding more private money. In April, he secured six new sponsorship deals with private French companies for an extra $4 million, a few days after Herve Madore resigned as deputy director in another blow for the bid.
"I'm not the only one responsible for this, it's a collective work," Beigbeder said. "Finding new financial means was necessary. We now have a meaningful and sufficient budget."
Another potential issue for the French bid is the lack of support from Annecy residents. A recent opinion poll showed that half of the residents of the lakeside town are opposed to the project.
According to the results, only 49 percent of Annecy residents are favorable to the bid. But Beigbeder said a recent survey commissioned by bid officials not only in the town of Annecy but also in the Savoie and Haute Savoie regions suggested that 67 percent of people supported it, a figure rising to 78 percent among young people.
Annecy's strongest asset is the environmental side of the project, which aims at staging "authentic" and "green" games in the heart of the Alps, and then making the region a hub for outdoor sports in Europe after the Olympics.
In its evaluation report, the IOC praised Annecy's vision of being a "catalyst and a model for sustainable development in the mountain region."
"I think they understand our vision and the concept of environmental legacy," Beigbeder said. "This is a magical location, and our generous ambition will allow the IOC to accomplish its ultimate mission, which is to inspire the whole world."
Annecy is making its first Olympic bid, although France has staged the Winter Games three times — Chamonix 1924, Grenoble 1968 and Albertville 1992.
All competitions would take place within a 33-kilometer (20-mile) radius. Annecy and Chamonix, which are less than an hour apart, would be linked by a rail line created for the Olympics.
Annecy would host the skating events and curling, while the opening ceremony would take place on the shores of the town's lake.
The snowboard and freestyle ski events would take place in the upper part of the town and the neighboring resorts of La Clusaz and Le Grand Bornand would stage the cross-country events. Alpine skiing and the ice hockey tournament would be held in Chamonix. Bobsled, luge and skeleton would be staged in the ski resort of La Plagne.
A total of 5,100 beds will be available in the Olympic villages, with about 600 more beds available in La Plagne.