Coe relies on a little help from his friends

The Olympic vote: Suggestions of a Spanish pact are denounced but can the flesh-pressing sway it London's way?

The commander in charge of the final assault in the battle for the 2012 Olympic Games, to be fought here on Wednesday, was unaware of its existence, and is unlikely to jog across to see it on his regular morning run through the rainforest. "Surrender Chamber?" sniffs Coe. "You must be bleedin' joking."

Lord Coe is far happier to be reminded that London's advance party landed last week on the very anniversary of one of Britain's most famous victories - the Battle of Trafalgar, at which another lord, name of Nelson, trounced both the French and the Spanish.

Appropriately, these are the two principal "enemies" London must now defeat if they are to win the right to host the greatest prize in sport seven years hence. "We haven't come this far to lose," Coe assured us yesterday as he prepared to move his war cabinet to the mainland for the last phase of the campaign.

The tranquil island of Sentosa has been a strategic haven. Tight security has enabled the London think-tank to enjoy their isolation as well as a touch of Sing-aporean serendipity in a resort where David Beckham, had he showed up, could happily have wandered around in his sarong. Most time has been spent on honing the presentation gameplan Coe bel-ieves will be crucial in capturing the votes of those IOC members who have not yet decided whether to support London, Paris, Madrid, Moscow or New York in the last act of this five-ringed bidding circus.

The question is whether London can now steal the show, as well as the floating votes. If London is to have another Trafalgar Day it may be because, unlike Nelson, Coe could have the Spanish as allies. Although London now back-pedal furiously from the suggestion of a pact, Coe greeted his Madrid opposite number, Feliciano Mayoral, with a huge bear-hug last night, and there is no doubt that a little help has been solicited from a friend, Coe's old mentor Juan Antonio Samaranch, should Madrid fall by the wayside in the early rounds. The votes of their Latin-bloc backers could then sway it London's way, providing Samaranch has persuaded them to push the right button.

But will it happen? Such are the vagaries of the voting in a secret ballot no one can be sure of the outcome until the white envelope is handed to the IOC president, Jacques Rogge, by a Singaporean schoolgirl sailor. Suggestions of such a deal have angered some IOC members and outraged Paris. And at least one South American member thinks any pressure put on them to back London could be counter-productive. "Does anyone really think we want to be told how to vote by Samaranch or anyone else?" he asks.

In their own five-star encampment next to the Raffles City Convention Centre, where the 117th IOC Session begins today, the French are not only fuming, but frazzled. Perhaps it is the humidity - or the heat London is putting on them.

Their worry, too, is that tactical voting might see them sensationally eliminated in the first round, some of the 100-strong eligible electorate believing Paris's progress is sufficiently assured that they can cast their votes sympathetically first time round for either the lesser fancied New York or Moscow to avoid these major Olympic players embarrassment. The Paris bid leader, Philippe Baudillon, admits: "This could happen to us - or to London - and you could end up with a freak result which would be bad for the Olympic movement."

Coe seems less concerned at such an eventuality, probably because the London bid, which has made such momentous strides under his stewardship, has less face to lose in a Chinese-dominated city where this is important than third-time bidders Paris. He is happy that London is in a far stronger position than could have been anticipated 18 months ago. Getting there has cost a pretty penny; once the bills are paid there won't be much change out of the £30m bid budget, but Coe considers it well worth it.

"Even if we lose, London will have gained a swimming pool, a velodrome and a hockey arena, and I doubt if sport has ever been bigger on our political agenda. The future of British sport now goes well beyond anything that might happen on Wednesday."

Bringing the Games to London, says Coe, would be a better result for him than than winning either of his Olympic gold medals "by a distance". He insists this is not a one-man show though it is clear that London's bid could now stand or fall on how he performs in the 45-minute presentation. Among his supporting cast will be Princess Anne, breaking the habit of a lifetime by addressing an IOC gathering, and the winsome 14-year-old east London schoolgirl, Amber Charles, who delivered London's bid to Lausanne. She is here to symbolise London's accent on youth, which the IOC like to think the Games is largely about. "Up to now our bricks and mortar have been under scrutiny," says Coe. "Now we are. The question is who best the IOC feel they can trust over the next seven years."

The message is echoed by Paris, who will rely heavily on the platform presence of Jacques Chirac. Tony Blair will lobby, but Chirac will lead as the keynote speaker while the British Prime Minister is on his way back to host the G8 Summit. However, Paris are disadvantaged by being first on, while London have a prime slot, going fourth, just behind Madrid.

Favourites do not have a great track record in these Olympic contests, and London seems on a roll. But IOC members may feel the London bidders have been a tad too pushy, and will find it hard to reject Paris for a third time.

As a Cockney, the heart says London, but the head still says Paris. By about five votes.

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