PARIS — In discussing their efforts to bring the 1992 Summer Olympics to the banks of the Seine, officials of the Paris organizing committee invariably start at the beginning.
On Nov. 25, 1892, in the Grand Amphitheater at the Sorbonne, Pierre de Coubertin, a French baron, called for a revival of the Olympics, which had been dormant for 25 centuries. Whether De Coubertin was ahead of his time, or perhaps behind it by more than 2,000 years, is a subject for historians, but there is no question that his idea was stunning in 1892.
De Coubertin recalled in his memoirs that the audience applauded wildly. For what, it did not know. De Coubertin wrote that his recommendation was met with "total, absolute misunderstanding which . . . was to last for a very long time."
Not until two years later did the Congress for the Revival of the Olympic Games convene in Paris, and not until four years later, in 1896, did the Olympic revival became a reality in Athens, Greece.
For the sake of history, however, the birth of the modern Olympics is traced to Paris in 1892, which is one reason officials here believe it would be appropriate for this city to play host to the Games of the XXV Olympiad in 1992, 100 years after De Coubertin's appeal.
But although there is no doubt about Paris' role in Olympic history, or even about its unofficial designation as "the Capital of Olympic Renewal," officials from five other cities argue that Paris had the Games in 1900 and 1924 and that it is not Paris' turn in 1992.
For the intense competition among the cities, the International Olympic Committee can thank Peter Ueberroth. In contrast to 1978, when Los Angeles was the only serious contender for the 1984 Games, and 1982, when Seoul, South Korea had to overcome one other challenger for the 1988 Games, officials from six cities, most of them no doubt inspired by the L.A. Olympic Organizing Committee's $230-million profit, have bid for the 1992 Summer Games.
In a vote Oct. 17 at Lausanne, Switzerland, IOC members will select the winner. On the same day, they will choose from among seven cities bidding for the 1992 Winter Games.
One winter candidate is Albertville, in the Savoy region of France, which could hurt Paris' efforts if voters decide they do not want to award both Olympic Games in 1992 to the same country. That has not happened since 1936.
Another potential problem for Paris, as well as for four other summer candidates--Amsterdam, Belgrade, Yugoslavia; Birmingham, England, and Brisbane, Australia--is that IOC President Juan Samaranch is a native of Barcelona, Spain, a leading contender.
Largely because of Samaranch, Barcelona is considered the favorite, although officials here say they believe the IOC president's repeated claims that he is neutral and add that, even if Samaranch is playing favorites, his influence over other IOC members is exaggerated.
Two months before the vote, Paris officials are confident that they are in the right place at the right time.
The place, of course, is Paris.
Aware of the worldwide reputation Parisians have earned for self-infatuation, officials here are careful to avoid appearances of arrogance. They clearly do not want to be seen taking the approach of "We're Paris, and you're not." But if someone else sings their praises, who are they to object?
Within a few minutes after he completed his race at a meet here last month, U.S. hurdler Edwin Moses was cornered by a man who is producing a film on behalf of the Paris organizing committee. He just happened to have a camera crew with him.
Asked why he would support Paris' candidacy for the Olympics, Moses said: "Because it's Paris. The city speaks for itself." The producer beamed.
In Paris' proposal, athletes and spectators would be treated to the best the central city has to offer, leaving them little reason to venture into the suburbs except to visit Euro-Disneyland, scheduled to open in late 1990. Paris, incidentally, was chosen over Barcelona as the site for the amusement park.
The Olympic Village is planned for both banks of the Seine River, within 30 minutes by metro of all but a few of the venues. Of the 28 sports, 19 would be held within a short walk of the river. The proposed site on the right bank is being protested by preservationists, however, because it is also the site of a historic wine market.
"Los Angeles did an excellent job in 1984, but, unfortunately, everything was spread out," said Alain Danet, vice chairman of the organizing committee and president of the Racing Club, one of Europe's oldest and most distinguished athletic clubs.
"When it is said that the Games are in Paris, it will mean just that, not that the Games are 50 kilometers out of Paris."
In order to make that claim, the organizing committee received permission from the government to create temporary sports arenas from buildings better known for their distinctive architecture, including the Grand Palais for fencing and the Palais des Congres for weightlifting.