Salt Lake City now has a 50-50 shot at being picked to host the 1998 Winter Games - odds that are nothing short of a miracle, according to an Olympic marketing expert.

"Salt Lake City has done a miraculous job in coming from no place to being a very, very serious contender," said Barry Frank, senior group vice president of International Management Group in New York City.A brief article that appeared in USA Today last week named Salt Lake City "the probable winner" of the Olympic bid based on comments from Frank, who negotiated television contracts for the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics.

Frank declined in a telephone interview Tuesday to predict which of the six competing cities will be selected by the International Olympic Committee in England in June.

"I don't want to guess who's going to win," Frank said. But he was willing to offer this advice to sports books: "If I were making odds, I'd make them 50-50, which is pretty good out of six cities."

He said the race appears to be between Salt Lake City and Ostersund, Sweden. Nagano, the Japanese city long considered the front-runner, is likely out of the running because of protests by environmental activists.

The other contenders - Sochi, Soviet Union; Aosta, Italy; and Jaca, Spain - have always been seen as long shots. Sochi has few facilities, and Aosta and Jaca are too near the sites of future Olympic Games.

If the selection were being made only on the basis of which city was most able to host the 1998 Winter Games, then the 1998 Winter Games should go to Salt Lake City, according to Frank.

"It's the best candidate," he said. But being the best is not always enough. "You never know what the particular agendas of these people are. It's not always the best city that gets it."

Salt Lake City's chances of hosting an Olympics suffered a setback when Atlanta was chosen as the site of the 1996 Summer Games. "If Atlanta had not gotten '96, Salt Lake City would be a shoo-in," Frank said.

Picking a U.S. city to host an Olympics stirs up anti-American sentiment among the IOC members, and many may not be ready to be criticized again so soon for selling out to commercial interests, he said.

The interests of the International Managment Group in the Olympics is negotiating television rights to broadcast Summer and Winter Games as well as marketing Olympic merchandise.

Frank said the firm, based in Cleveland and considered the world's largest sports marketing organization, will seek to represent Salt Lake City if the city gets the bid.


`Does he vote?'

That's all Tom Welch, chairman of the Salt Lake City Bid Committee for the Olympic Winter Games, wanted to know about the man who gave Utah a 50-50 chance of hosting the 1998 Winter Games.

Even when told the odds came from Barry Frank, an Olympic marketing expert whose comments in USA Today last week led the newspaper to conclude Salt Lake City "now figures to be the probable winner," Welch didn't get excited.

"Obviously, it was a nice article. But you know, he doesn't vote. Our campaign is centered around the 92 people who do," he said before excusing himself to rejoin the latest group of International Olympic Committee members to visit Salt Lake City.