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Putin’s charisma swings Olympic panel vote

Vladimir Radyuhin

Russia to host 2014 Winter Olympics

MOSCOW: The Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi won the right to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in what became a triumph for President Vladimir Putin and his efforts in rebuilding Russia.

Sochi narrowly defeated the favourite, South Korean city of Pyeongchang, after Mr. Putin swayed the International Olympic Committee vote with his powerful personal lobbying and charisma in Guatemala City on Wednesday.

The Russian leader, who flew in from the United States after talks with U.S. President George W. Bush, stunned the Olympic Committee members with an emotional speech in polished English. It was for the first time that Mr. Putin, who is known to be fluent in German, spoke in public in English. He also switched to French towards the end of his 10-minute address.“I skied in Sochi six-seven weeks ago, and I can assure you there will be real snow there in February 2014,” said Mr. Putin, who is also a judo black belt.

Dark horse in the race

The 400,000-people Russian city, which had entered the race as an outsider and is yet to build all Olympic venues from scratch, won by 51 votes against 47 for Pyeongchang after Austria’s Salzburg was eliminated in the first round. Olympic Committee members conceded that it was Mr. Putin who had swung the vote in favour of Sochi.

“The Putin charisma can explain the four votes,” the French representative said. Mr. Putin easily outshined the leaders of South Korea and Austria, who also went to Guatemala to support their cities’ bids.

Russia, which has won 293 Winter Olympic medals so far — more than any other country — has never been host to Winter Games. Moscow held the 1980 Summer Games marred by a U.S.-led boycott after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The Russian Government has pledged to invest $12 billion in the construction of Olympic facilities.

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