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USOC trying to narrow potential 2024 candidates

(Reuters) - The United States Olympic Committee has not decided whether it will bid for the 2024 Summer Games but said on Tuesday it hopes to narrow down a list of cities capable of winning a bid within the next couple months.

Interest in bringing the Olympics back to the United States is gaining momentum both at home and among International Olympic Committee (IOC) members.

"It is a very informal process and our goal is to make a decision (on whether to proceed) by the end of the year and there haven't been any formal deadlines or submissions," USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun said on a conference call.

"The dialogue is really around which cities do we think can put together a bid that is going to be a fantastic bid and which cities do we think have the opportunity to win.

"Before we make a final decision we need to get into fairly detailed discussions with hopefully a smaller number of cities so our objective is to be in that position within the next couple of months."

The USOC sent letters to the mayors of America's 35 biggest cities last year to gauge interest in bidding for the 2024 Games and has been tight-lipped ever since about the response calling the process "informal."

Several cities are believed to have thrown their hats into the ring, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and San Diego but as yet no preferred candidate has been identified.

Blackmun's comments come amid reports that the USOC is preparing to have a short list of two or three cities as early as next month and hopes to have settled on a candidate city by the end of 2014 or early next year.

But if the USOC feels there is no bid capable of landing the 2024 Games the organization will turn its focus to a 2026 Winter Olympics.

The last Olympics staged in the United States were the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

The United States has not hosted a Summer Games since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and can expect stiff competition if it does enter the 2024 race with potential bids coming from Rome, Paris, Doha and Durban, South Africa.

The IOC has encouraged the United States to submit a candidate but the USOC will want firmer support before proceeding.

Blackmun said the USOC was not yet factoring in global politics into any decision on whether to go forward with a bid but the organization will eventually take a long hard look at the political climate after embarrassing rebukes the last two time the they put forward bids.

The USOC has spent several years patching up strained relationships with the IOC after New York's bid for the 2012 Games and Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics were rejected.

"We have heard plenty of encouragement from multiple IOC members about a U.S. bid so I think IOC membership is favorably inclined towards us at least considering going forward," said USOC chairman Larry Probst.

The next Summer Olympics will be held in Rio in 2016 while 2020 Games were awarded to Tokyo.

The decision on the 2024 host will be made in 2017.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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