Opponents in the race to host the 1998 Winter Olympics haven't yet issued a death certificate to Salt Lake City's bid despite the fact another American city - Atlanta - will host the Summer Games only two years earlier.

"Anything can happen," said Christer Persson, member of the Ostersund, Sweden, Olympic Bid Committee.Ostersund; Salt Lake City; Jaca, Spain; Nagano, Japan; Sochi, USSR, and Aosta, Italy, are all bidding for the 1998 Winter Games.

Most of the cities competing for the 1998 Games agree they all have clean slates and are able to start their bids in earnest.

"Atlanta was picked because they were the best. How (that decision) would affect us is difficult to say. It depends on the moment. The International Olympic Committee's decisions aren't always logical," said Giorgio Boglione, coordinator of Aosta's Olympic Committee.

Representatives of Aosta, like those of the other bidding cities, say because of the ever-changing whims of the IOC they won't write off any Winter Games candidates until the final vote is counted in Birmingham, England, next June.

As for Salt Lake strategy, officials said after the Atlanta decision was announced they needed to start distancing themselves from Atlanta. Tom Welch, chairman of the Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee, said they want to show just how far apart - both culturally and geographically - are the crossroads of the West and the heartland of the South.

They will also try to persuadethe IOC to undertake a marketing plan that would involve back-to-back Olympics in the UnitedStates.

Robert Helmick, U.S. Olympic Committee president, said Utah also must emphasize its technical superiority as a site for the Winter Olympics. "Utah is unquestionably the finest potential bid. There is a lot of life left in this bid. It is not an option to quit," Helmick said.

At the same time, competitors agree that the Atlanta decision makes Salt Lake City's job more difficult.

"Atlanta creates problems for Salt Lake City because they have to follow Atlanta in two years. But Salt Lake City remains a strong candidate with professional people. They have good facilities to show and much to offer. No one has canceled any of the opposition," said Boglione.

While no one is willing to discount anyone's bid, the talk is almost unanimous regarding a front-runner. All contenders point to Nagano as the one to beat. For example, Juan Monserrat, president of the Spanish Aragon Provencial Parliament, said Jaca is a relative newcomer to the Olympic bidding process. He said the race is between Jaca and Nagano. Salt Lake City Olympic organizers have always maintained that Nagano is the one to beat.

Nagano has the ability to pour prodigious amounts of yen into its bid and gain official top-level government support. It paraded several top Japanese officials before the IOC and international press at the IOC-Tokyo meetings that concluded Thursday.

Such shows of force have contenders worried.

Similarly, no one doubts the Japanese promises to build millions of dollars worth of facilities in the Japan Alps region.

In the midst of the Atlanta Summer Games euphoria, prompted by the announcement by IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch to an estimated 4.5 million-person television audience Tuesday, the winter candidates have been trying to regain attention.

Wednesday morning a photo of Sweden's royal couple appeared on the wall of Ostersund's hospitality suite while other candidates unpacked VCRs, slick brochures and liquor to smooze visitors. Many made personal invitations to IOC members to visit the special rooms and hear sales pitches.

Reporters visiting these rooms heard much the same story about strategy - get as many IOC members to visit your city as possible.

Monserrat's comment was a fill-in-the-blank response for most of the bid cities. "We need to show them (IOC members) the reality of our bid."

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2 rivals meet in Nagano

Residents and city workers in Nagano, Japan, on Thursday applauded a delegation from Salt Lake City arriving to visit the city that is their chief rival in bidding for the 1998 Winter Olympics.

Led by Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis, the Utahns visited Nagano's city hall where they were given gifts. They also saw a downtown Olympic center located in the city's bus station and a potential site for free-style ski events.

DePaulis said he was very impressed with the city and its people. He said he was certain that if one of the two cities receives the Olympic bid, "it would bring peace to the world and understanding to all people."

The delegation also visited one of Japan's Buddhist temples in Nagano and will visit other proposed Olympic venues on Friday.