Putin Helps Sochi Win 2014 Olympic Games

Wednesday, July 4th 2007, 5:22 pm
By: News On 6

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ ``The captain'' delivered in the clutch for Russia.

The personal appeal and power of Russian President Vladimir Putin swayed just enough votes among Olympic leaders Wednesday to bring his nation its first Winter Olympics _ bitterly disappointing South Korea and Austria.

International Olympic Committee members credited Putin's personal lobbying for the 51-47 victory that put the 2014 games in Sochi, a Black Sea resort where the snow-capped Caucasus mountains rise from some of Russia's warmest beaches.

Putin flew in directly from a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, flattering delegates by spending time with them and reassuring many about his government's financial commitment to the billions of dollars needed to prepare ``the Russian Riviera'' for the winter games.

He also charmed some by uncharacteristically using English and French during Russia's final presentation Wednesday.

``If Putin is not here, I think it would be different results,'' said IOC Executive Board member Sergei Bubka. ``I think this final touch made the difference.''

French IOC member Jean-Claude Killy said: ``Putin charisma can explain four votes.''

Russian delegates referred to Putin _ who often skis at Sochi _ in sports terminology: ``The captain ... raised our team to a completely different level,'' former NHL superstar Vyacheslav Fetisov, the Russian sports chief, told a news conference after the victory.

As the vote was announced, Russian delegates erupted in cheers, and a party erupted across the street at an improbable open-air ice rink in the tropics that the Russians had installed in front of a Guatemalan steak house.

Giddy bid chief Dimitry Chernyshenko proclaimed it ``one of the most important days in Russia's history,'' and vowed the Olympics would help make Russia ``even more open, more democratic.''

The Russians set off a spectacular fireworks display over the streets of Guatemala's capital by night _ echoing a similar celebration in the skies over Sochi itself.

Russia, an Olympic power which has won 293 Winter Games medals, has never hosted the Winter Games. That was a strong point in Sochi's favor with the IOC, which likes to spread the Olympics to new host countries. Moscow hosted the 1980 Summer Games, which were hit by the U.S.-led boycott following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Putin praised Sochi's natural setting, saying, ``On the seashore you can enjoy a fine spring day, but up in the mountains, it's winter ... a real snow is guaranteed.''

Although most venues must be newly built, Putin assured: ``We guarantee the Olympic cluster in Sochi will be completed on time.''

``No traffic jams, I promise,'' he said with a smile.

Rival delegations were devastated.

Salzburg, Austria, presented itself as a safe, no-risk winter sports mecca at the heart of Europe with world-class venues already in place; and Pyeongchang, South Korea, offered the potential for peace and reconciliation on the divided Korean peninsula and promoting winter sports in Asia.

Salzburg _ once considered the favorite _ finished third among three as it did in bidding for the 2010 games that went to Vancouver, British Columbia. Pyeongchang led the first-round vote, as it did four years ago, but was narrowly defeated in the final round.

Asked if Salzburg would try again, a glum Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, replied, ``Maybe this is the worst point of time to put this question.''

Salzburg mayor Heinz Schaden hinted Austria had been outgunned and outspent by larger, richer nations: ``It's maybe the case that small countries ... really have to consider if they can bid for winter games.''