By Ossian Shine
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - In the dwindling hours before a vote to decide who lands the most powerful job in world sport, the man heavily tipped to become the ninth president of the International Olympic Committee, Germany's Thomas Bach, exudes an easy confidence.
Having served the retiring Jacques Rogge for 10 years as a vice-president, the former fencer believes he has the experience, the connections and the know-how to lead the band of some 100 custodians of the Olympic Games.
"The tension rises," he told reporters in the busy lobby of the Hilton hotel hosting the IOC's 125th Session.
If Bach was feeling tense, he did not show it as he smiled his way through questions, one eye on his colleagues milling around the foyer in a break from meetings.
Bach is in a field of six for the top job, but insiders say only Singapore's Ng Ser Miang and Puerto Rico's Richard Carrion are serious rivals.
Few give much hope to Ukraine's Sergei Bubka, Switzerland's Denis Oswald or CK Wu of Taiwan.
While it is widely accepted that Bach is the man to beat, the German refuses to speculate.
"I am looking forward to the decision. After all the training camps, now is the time to go to the piste," he said, borrowing from his fencing past.
"I am an athlete and I am just in front of a great final -- you feel you have done all your training so you can go with all confidence.
"But you have to know, in the grand final everyone starts on the same line."
Mutterings of the beginnings of a mild smear campaign by Oswald leave Bach unfazed.
The Swiss administrator questioned Bach's independence in the campaign, referring to support from the influential IOC member Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah of Kuwait, who openly backed Bach.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams later told reporters Oswald had apologized to the IOC, and that he had said more than he had intended in an interview.
"I understand he has been reminded of the rules of the election," Adams said.
But while commentators on the sidelines worked themselves into a frenzy hours before the vote, Bach coolly brushed off the issue.
"I have not heard it. There are so many rumors these days that I have got used to not following them.
"I focus on the discussions I have with my colleagues and they are going well."
Singapore's Ng is considered a viable choice, although with Tokyo being awarded the 2020 Olympics, it seems unlikely both decisions will go Asia's way.
Still, though, seven of the last eight presidents have been Europeans, a fact which sits uneasily with some members. This could play in Carrion's favor.
"I have a management style I feel is appropriate," Carrion said. "Most importantly I am very committed to the Olympic movement.
"I think it is very important that the new president has independence and a clean sheet."
All candidates are aware of the work that lies ahead. The outgoing president Rogge was a steadying hand who restored credibility to the body after a series of financial scandals; but there is still much to do.
"We have different challenges coming up," Ng said. "We have to continue to be strong, to be firm, to be tough against doping.
"We must work closer with (global anti-doping body) WADA and the international (sports) federations.
"We should work more with countries and with sports who have problems."
Bach sees four distinct challenges ahead, most pressing is the need to manage the size and cost of the Games that can be large enough to cripple some economies and scare off would-be hosts.
The new president will also have to manage a number of early problems including the fall-out from Russia's anti-gay propaganda law ahead of February's Sochi Olympics, and the disorganized state of Rio's 2016 preparations.
"We must develop the concept of sustainability for the Olympic Games starting with the candidature," he said.
"Secondly, we must ensure the credibility of the IOC which means zero tolerance with doping, manipulation and corruption.
"We must have better participation by the members, and we need to engage youth to win them as consumers of sports, but also to practice sports."
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)