NAGANO, Japan (AP) _ IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch said today he hopes the Olympics can go to South Africa in 2008, taking the games to Africa for the first time.

Cape Town was a contender for the 2004 Games, which were awarded in September to Athens. Cape Town finished a strong third in the voting, giving South Africa encouragement for a 2008 bid.

Of the continents represented by the five Olympic rings, only Africa has never been host to the games.

``One continent is missing,'' Samaranch said at a news conference on the eve of the Nagano Games. ``We had Cape Town bidding for 2004. We hope in 2008 there will come other candidates from Africa.''

Other South African cities, including Pretoria and Johannesburg, are considered potential bidders.

South Africa is also considering a bid for the 2006 World Cup of soccer, and officials from the country have made clear they would not try for both that and the Olympics.

Samaranch's comments came in response to a question from a Chinese television reporter who asked whether the games would go to another continent after Europe in 2004.

Samaranch pointedly made no reference to a possible Chinese bid. Beijing was a narrow loser to Sydney in the race for the 2000 Games and China is considering a 2008 bid. Beijing, Canton and Shanghai have been mentioned as possible candidates.

Samaranch said last month that a series of recent Chinese doping scandals had damaged the country's chances for a 2008 bid.

Osaka, Japan, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, are the only declared candidates so far for 2008. There also is the possibility of bids from Europe, including Paris.

The International Olympic Committee will select the 2008 host city in 2001.

On other issues, Samaranch described Nagano's preparations for the Winter Games as ``so far, so good.'' He was cautious when asked whether he expects to call them ``the best ever'' Winter Games at the closing ceremony.

``It's very early,'' he said. ``The organization must go as it's going until today. ... The participation and enthusiasm of the population will also be important.''

On doping, Samaranch praised the international swimming federation FINA for banning five Chinese swimmers for drug offenses before last month's world championships in Perth, Australia.

``If all the international federations will act as FINA, maybe the danger of doping will not be the same,'' he said.

Samaranch welcomed the action of Australian customs officials who found vials of banned human growth hormone in the luggage of a Chinese swimmer entering Australia for the championships. FINA banned the swimmer for four years and her coach for 15 years.

``What happened in Australia was a very good experience,'' Samaranch said. ``If it can help for next games and other major sports events, the cooperation of customs is welcome.''

Samaranch confirmed without elaborating that the IOC will consider stripping medals from former East German athletes who have been identified as drug users. Several athletes from the United States, Australia and Britain are seeking to gain medals they feel they lost through cheating during the 1970s and '80s.

Samaranch also indicated he will anoint a successor, or possible successors, before his term expires in 2001 in order to avert a disruptive election campaign. More than half a dozen contenders are already in line.

``One of my last duties very near my withdrawal will be to help the unity of the Olympic family,'' said Samaranch, who has been in office since 1980. ``Maybe the year 2000 will be the time to study solutions not to leave the Olympic movement divided behind me.''