By Tuesday night, the U.S. Olympic Committee's bid evaluation task force will have pared the list to two cities.
"It will not be simple. All four deserve to win," said Charles H. Moore, the former Olympic gold medalist who heads the task force. "The cities are probably the four most qualified in the world."
The USOC's board of directors will decide Nov. 3 which city will be the U.S. candidate for the 2012 Games. Then comes the international competition.
As many as a dozen cities - including possibly Toronto, Rome and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - are expected to vie for the games. The International Olympic Committee will pick the host in 2005.
"In one level, the nervous tension is building a bit," said Dan Knise, president of Washington DC 2012. "But that's also tempered by the reality that we've done all we can."
So, Moore said, has the task force. Its members have spent hundreds of hours evaluating the cities and their bids. The team visited each of the four cities twice, with every member scoring the individual bids.
The cities weren't ranked against each other, Moore said. Much like par in golf, the scoring was done against a neutral number. The biggest portion of the ratings - 54 percent - was based on the IOC's criteria for host cities, Moore said.
Another 15 percent was related to the financial stability of the bid. The final 31 percent was something Moore calls "what it takes to win." That includes everything from how attractive the city is to the international community to how it would stage the Paralympics, which follow the Olympics.
"We've been very thorough," Moore said. "It's a very straightforward process."
But now it's time to pit the cities against each other.
"When you play golf, you can play against the course, the par. Or you can play the players," Moore said. "This is the first time we're going to play against the players."
Moore insisted no comparison has been done yet, but San Francisco and Washington are thought to be the front-runners. New York could be a sentimental favorite after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Washington's bid centers around an Olympic Sports Complex at the current site of RFK Stadium on a cleaned-up Anacostia River. Similar to Sydney's Olympic Park, the complex would be the site of nine sports, the new stadium, an Olympic plaza, the media center and various support facilities.
San Francisco's weather, waterfront and scenic vistas are its strong points. Organizers plan to use the Golden Gate Bridge as a signature emblem, the way Sydney's Opera House was used during the 2000 Summer Olympics.
As the country's biggest city, New York is touting its expertise at handling - and moving - large crowds. The city also is selling its diversity and immigrant history, likening it to the Olympic movement itself.
Houston's strength is its technical plan, with most of the venues close to each other and 90 percent already complete or under construction. Organizers have also promised an $87 million renovation to make the Astrodome an elite track and field facility, a plan endorsed by track's international governing body.
The task force also must consider the IOC, which has members from all over the world. A city might have a great bid, but it won't mean anything if the IOC doesn't like it.
"The key is that the USOC is going to pick the city with the best chance to win internationally," said Dan Doctoroff, New York's deputy mayor for economic development and former head of NYC 2012. "Otherwise, this whole process is futile."
Moore has received input from IOC and USOC members, and he's confident the United States can present a city that will be to the IOC's liking.
Some think the IOC will hesitate to award the United States a third Olympics in 16 years, especially considering the problems Atlanta and Salt Lake City experienced. The 2010 Games could complicate matters, too, because Vancouver, British Columbia, is a favorite to get those Olympics.
"I think there's a 50 percent chance we can bring the games back here," Moore said. "We certainly have the best bids."