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ATHENS, Greece -- The Austrian city of Salzburg and South Korea's Pyeongchang look to have edged ahead in a tight three-way race for the 2014 Winter Games after the International Olympic Committee said their concepts were "excellent".
The other bidder, Russia's Sochi, received a "very good" rating for its concept on Monday and also won praise for its transport plans and financial guarantees.
In an Evaluation Commission report released on Monday, one month before the IOC decides on the host city, Salzburg won votes for the large number of existing venues, which would make preparations easier should it win the right to host the Games.
Sochi will essentially have to build all 11 competition venues from scratch, a process that would be "tightly monitored" by the IOC. Pyeongchang will have to build seven of 11 venues and reconstruct one.
"Today we have moved one step closer to our goal of hosting the Winter Games," Heinz Schaden, president of Salzburg 2014 and the city's mayor, said in a statement.
"The detailed evaluation in the report clearly establishes the quality and excellence of Salzburg's plans," he said.
Pyeongchang was equally upbeat following the report. "We are delighted that the IOC Evaluation Commission has made such a favourable assessment of Pyeongchang's bid," bid committee chairman Han Seung-soo said. "The Commission recognised the high standard of Pyeongchang's bid in many areas."
The IOC's commission visited all three cities earlier in the year to evaluate a range of key issues including venues, transportation, accommodation, security and financing.
IOC members will decide on the winning bid during their session in Guatemala on July 4.
Pyeongchang's $1.257 billion and Sochi's $1.517 billion Games budgets were considered "achievable" and financial guarantees were satisfactory, while Salzburg's $965 million budget was deemed "relatively low" compared to previous Games.
The commission also said Sochi and Pyeongchang enjoyed strong public support while Salzburg's bid was backed by 42 percent of the city's residents and 61 percent of Austrians in general.
Salzburg's bid has also come under a cloud after Austria's Olympic Committee was fined $1 million over a doping affair at the 2006 Winter games in Turin.
Sochi and Pyeongchang have also met requirements for accommodation, guaranteeing the 22,800 rooms requested by the IOC, while Salzburg fell just short of that figure.
South Korea is bidding to become only the second Asian nation following Japan to host the Winter Olympics, while Russia, a traditional winter sports powerhouse, has never hosted the Winter Games.
Schaden, president of Salzburg 2014 and city mayor, is upbeat about the Games bid.