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Gross' refusal leaves Leipzig bid in crisis

The former Olympic swimming champion Michael Gross has turned down an offer to lead Leipzig's efforts to secure the 2012 Olympics, plunging the bid deeper into crisis.

In a letter made public yesterday, Gross said he did not feel up to the challenge of becoming the bid's managing director. Dirk Thaerichen, the former managing director, stepped aside a week ago following revelations that he had served in a guard unit of communist East Germany's dreaded secret police, the Stasi.

Gross had been proposed for the job by top members of the bid's supervisory board and had been expected to be confirmed at a meeting on Friday.

His refusal leaves Leipzig without an internationally known personality to head their bid, which is considered an outsider against opposition that includes New York, Paris, London and Moscow. Four other cities are also bidding - Havana, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Istanbul. "We are going through a difficult phase," the Leipzig mayor, Wolfgang Tiefensee, said.

Gross was one of Germany's most successful swimmers, winning three Olympic golds, five World Championship golds and 10 European titles.

The organisers of next year's Athens Olympics have signed an agreement with a private Greek hospital group to provide additional healthcare services during the games.

The Athens Medical Center will provide staff for health facilities as well as material for the Olympic Village's 24-hour microbiology clinic.