As the 109 members of the International Olympic Committee prepare to name the host of the 2004 Olympics - they will announce their choice in Lausanne on Friday - the five contenders are hoping desperately for a smooth glide towards the finish line.
Rome, Athens, Stockholm, Buenos Aires and Cape Town have already put clear water between themselves and six other prospective bidders, but each is experiencing turbulence as the big moment approaches.
The most disconcerting disruption has occurred in Stockholm, where a campaign of arson attacks culminated this month in a bomb blast which wrecked the press box in the Olympic stadium.
The day after that incident, the Swedish daily, Dagens Nyheter, carried the headline "Goodbye Olympic Games."
The group claiming responsibility for the damage, which calls itself "We Who Build Sweden" - rather curious in the circumstances - has threatened that if Stockholm gets the Games, darts tipped in prussic acid will be hurled at officials and athletes.
For a country whose major attraction is a Volvo-like sense of wholesome security, the activities of these anti-Olympic activists have been seriously bad news.
There has also been a widespread public opposition to the Games, which may owe something to financial caution following the austerity programme introduced during the early 1990s to combat rising government debt. Gothenburg's experience in hosting the 1995 World Athletics Championships, when a forecast profit of $4m (pounds 2.5m)ended up as a loss of $3m, is likely to have compounded feelings of suspicion.
The bid organisers point to the fact that 90 per cent of the venues are already built, and that costs have been underwritten both by the Swedish Parliament and a projected lottery which would guarantee an additional income of $357m.
If the Olympics do return to the city which hosted them in 1912, there would be a sense of compactness about them - Stockholm has a population of just 1.7 million - which many would find appealing after the corporate sprawl of last summer's Games in Atlanta.
Cape Town has its own simmering protest movement, the Muslim vigilante group PAGAD (People Against Gangsterism And Drugs), is opposed to the Games, and has warned it will not halt its attacks on those it deems to be criminal elements in the city. The bid slogan - "If Cape Town wins, we all win" - has a hollow ring to it.
But against the deep fears about civil unrest and an inadequate economy, there is the inspiring appeal of President Nelson Mandela. He is telling IOC members that they have helped bring down apartheid by banning South Africa from 1963 until 1992, and that they can now "deepen" a developing democracy by awarding the African continent its first Games.
That is the kind of gesture which might appeal to the IOC president, Juan-Antonio Samaranch, who was reported to favour a similarly ground- breaking award of the 2000 Games to China, only to see Sydney triumph by two votes.
The appeal of Cape Town is similar in its emotional intensity to that which Athens exercised in bidding for the Games of 1996, which fell 100 years after they had hosted the first modern Olympics.
On that occasion, Athenians were left crying in the streets and a national campaign was launched exhorting Greeks to boycott Coca-Cola and CNN television after Atlanta - home to these two giant corporations - had got the nod.
It was widely recognised that Athens was overconfident to the point of complacency in its campaign for a centenary Games. The lesson has been well learned, and the new team steer clear of any hubristic utterances.
"Like all Greeks, I was disappointed with the last bid," said Gianna Angelopoulos, president of the Athens 2004 Bid Committee. "Now we need to fight and produce the best."
In its favour, Athens already has an Olympic complex, including a main stadium which, earlier this month, hosted a highly successful World Athletics Championships.
Athens cannot but have risen in the IOC's esteem for the way it hosted the International Amateur Athletic Federation's biennial event, even if the Italian IAAF president, Primo Nebiolo, who is also president of the Roman bid, accused the Greeks of being unable to organise a major sporting event properly.
Nebiolo did need to persuade the Greek under-secretary of sport and the president of the national athletics federation to resolve their differences back in November; but his crude abuse may have been counter-productive. It certainly sat ill on someone who, five days earlier, had received the freedom of Athens. Perhaps Nebiolo took it as a sign to be free with his comments.
Rome has been widely considered the most likely bid to succeed, but, like Athens, it faces potentially huge problems with its transport system.
It also has a substantial number of dissenting voices, marshalled by the outspoken Ernesto Galli della Loggia, who has denounced the IOC as a "money-making machine" and the IOC president as an unrepentant ex-fascist following his years as a government minister in Franco's Spain.
Della Loggia's case is hardly weakened by the hugely expensive aftermath of hosting the 1990 World Cup, which left Rome with massive budget overshoots of up to 300 per cent on some projects, a matter which is still being discussed by magistrates.
Rome's bid may also have been adversely affected by the chaotic staging of the World Student Games in Sicily this month. None of the building projects promised was completed in time, a state of affairs which caused seven regional councillors to lose their jobs.
This week an Italian member of parliament, Pecorario Scanio, called for Nebiolo to resign his position as president of the World Student Games Federation.
Buenos Aires has been spared internal bickering. Opinion polls indicate more than 80 per cent of city residents want the Games, and the country's political parties have settled their differences to unite behind the bid.
But an acute shortage of hotel rooms and major problems with the airport siting and transport system mean that South America will have to wait at least another four years to host its first Olympics.
CITY-BY-CITY GUIDE TO THE OLYMPIC CONTENDERS
Sweden has staged major competitions in 22 of the 28 Olympic sports in the last decade, including the 1992 European Football Championships, which were held in Stockholm. "We have the knowledge of how to stage these events," says the Stockholm bid leader, Olaf Stenhammer. The 70,000-capacity Victoria stadium is the only large arena that would need construction work.
Plus points: Compact venues, civilised surroundings.
Minus points: Public opposition, fringe group bombers.
Major alterations in attitude have taken place since the overconfident bid for the 1996 centenary Games.
Alterations are also underway to the chaotic transport situation. By 2001, the city will have a new metro system and ring road system, as well as a modern, out-of-town airport. Anti-pollution measures, such as the re-siting of rubbish dumps and a $1.6bn overhaul of the city's sewage system leave this Athens bid smelling sweeter.
Plus points: Unrivalled historic depth, friendly people, majority of facilities already built.
Minus points: Transport still likely to be a problem in a crowded city. Heat.
There are signs of caution now in a bid that has been generally regarded as the favourite. "We don't want to go to Lausanne as Popes and come back as cardinals," said the head of the Rome 2004 promotion committee, Raffaele Ranucci. Rome is much changed since it hosted the 1960 Olympics, with a degree of civic chaos that is only now being addressed. The recent, chaotic hosting of the World Student Games in Sicily may also have a detrimental effect.
Plus points: Historic resonance, powerful political influence.
Minus points: Transport and accommodation problems, image problem.
Seeking to become the first South American host to the Olympics, the city has 75 per cent of the required infrastructure in place on the banks of the River Plate. Buenos Aires has offered $25m to help athletes who might not otherwise be able to afford participation. Argentina can also point to being one of the original 12 founding members of the IOC. The organisers expect to make a modest profit.
Plus points: Political and public support.
Minus points: Transport and accommodation problems.
President Nelson Mandela is pointing to the five Olympic rings and asking: which is the only continent to be denied the Games so far?
Organisers have gambled on appealing to the consciences and imagination of visiting IOC delegates, showing them the shanty settlements which might benefit from the award of the Games.
Virtually nothing has yet been built, and there are deep fears about crime and violence.
Plus points: Nelson Mandela. The possibility of a grand gesture.
Minus points: Gangsterism. Third World living conditions for the majority. Public opposition among powerful white lobby.Reuse content