Salt Lake City is "just as good as Nagano," but the Japanese city may have the edge in the competition to host the 1998 Winter Games, according to a visiting member of the International Olympic Committee from the Philippines.

Francisco Elizalde, one of 94 IOC members who will select the site of the 1998 Winter Games next spring, spoke with reporters Friday at the governor's mansion after touring the area.While he praised Salt Lake City's accessibility, Elizalde said it may be Japan's turn to host an Olympics especially in light of another U.S. city, Atlanta, being selected the site of the 1996 Summer Games.

"I'd say, from the point of view for acceptable venues, Salt Lake City is just as good as Nagano," Elizade said. "Nagano, perhaps it has an advantage of sorts."

The selection of Atlanta, he said, also may have hurt Salt Lake City's chances of being selected. Utah Olympic boosters have expressed the same fear privately since the announcement earlier this year.

"I don't think it helps. I really don't. Let's be frank," Elizade said. He tempered his assessment by noting Atlanta had a similar handicap because Los Angeles and Calgary, Alberta, both recently hosted the Olympics.

Nagano is considered a front-runner in the bid for the Winter Games, because Japan has not hosted an Olympics since 1972, when the Winter Games were held in Sapporo.

Besides Nagano and Salt Lake City, the only other community vying for the 1998 Winter Games that Elizade has visited is Ostersund, Sweden. He expects to travel to the other contenders, Aosta, Italy; Jaca, Spain; and Sochi, USSR.

He said he has seen more of Salt Lake City during the past two days than he was able to see while in Nagano. "In Nagano, I was not really able to get into the mountains," Elizade said.

The Wasatch Mountains lend Salt Lake City an Alpine air similar to Albertville, France, where the 1994 Winter Games are to be held, according to Elizade.

And Salt Lake City's accessibility and infrastructure compare favorably to big cities that have hosted the Winter Games, such as Calgary, he said. "In this case, I think you have a very good combination."

Also in Utah's favor, he said, was the passage of an Olympic referendum last year that set aside sales-tax revenues to build facilities.

"I was very much impressed," Elizade said. "When people vote in favor of spending their own money, that's a big advantage."

He'll have a chance to get an even closer look at Salt Lake City when he reviews the two-volume bid, encased in oak and slipped into a leather Pony Express-style bag, presented to him by Gov. Norm Bangerter.

The elaborate package, which includes specifications for the Olympic event sites as well as full-color photographs depicting life in Utah, will be given to all of the IOC members in the coming months.

Elizalde, a member of the IOC since 1985, has various business interests including a paint and oil factory, a rope factory and a security equipment manufacturing firm.