Still some hurdles, but the race is on

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The Independent Online

Lord Coe, who leads London's Olympics bid, said he was "delighted" with the evaluation contained in the latest IOC inspection report. As well he might have been. Paris remains the bookies' favourite, but the race is, as Lord Coe put it with the spirit characteristic of the inveterate competitor, too close to call.

Lord Coe, who leads London's Olympics bid, said he was "delighted" with the evaluation contained in the latest IOC inspection report. As well he might have been. Paris remains the bookies' favourite, but the race is, as Lord Coe put it with the spirit characteristic of the inveterate competitor, too close to call.

This may be a view born of optimism and patriotism - but there is nothing wrong with that. It is vital not to talk down London's chances, while addressing what remains to be done. The most gratifying aspect of the report was its recognition of how promptly and effectively London has acted to remedy earlier concerns, especially relating to transport.

If, as it appears, ordinary residents and visitors will benefit - not just from much-needed new and better transport links, but from such mundane improvements as additional carriages on Tube trains - this is an additional reason for London to support the bid. Parallels can be drawn with the measures taken by aspiring European Union members to improve their institutions and economies. The mere ambition to qualify provides the impetus for changes that are beneficial in themselves, whether or not the application - or the bid - succeeds.

The efforts of the Government, and the readiness of the Queen to play a part in the bid during the inspectors' visit earlier this year, had helped to dispel the impression that Britain was cool to the idea of hosting the Olympics. We may have been slow to embrace the idea of a London Olympics, but it seems that we are warming to the idea. If we win, we could become proud and enthusiastic hosts.

Anyone who saw the pictures of the Champs Elysées, remade at the weekend as a running track and adorned with colourful processions of athletes, will be under no illusion about what London is up against. What a spectacular demonstration of the way France does things - and with such panache! The fact is, however, that Paris's athletics stadium will not be on the Champs Elysées, but as far from the city centre as the stadium planned for London.

One real advantage of London perhaps, and one - dare we believe - that might clinch victory by a hair's breadth, is the proximity of the stadium to the Olympic village, and the ingenious siting of other sports. Most competitors will be able to walk from village to venue; in their leisure time, they will be free to enjoy everything else that London has to offer. For non-stadium events, Wembley, Wimbledon and Lord's, the Royal Parks, Greenwich and Horse Guards Parade will all be called into service. The proximity of Paris makes it easy to forget, but London can do style and originality, too.

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