Russian city to stage 2014 Winter Olympics
Would the International Olympic Committee choose a 2014 Winter Olympics host -- Salzburg, Austria -- that pledged to serve sport and the IOC?
Or would it choose one of the two, Sochi, Russia, and Pyeongchang, South Korea, that want the Winter Olympics to serve themselves as engines for economic or geopolitical change?
The answer? Sochi.
But in a competition where corporate might and clout also were said to be playing a significant role, the only clear-cut part of the secret ballot decision was the result of the IOC’s vote Wednesday.
Sochi defeated Pyeongchang, 51 votes to 47, in the final round of a secret ballot by the IOC.
Salzburg had the embarrassment of being eliminated in the first round for the second straight time.
Sochi’s victory brings the Winter Games to winter sports power Russia for the first time and rewards Russian President Vladimir Putin’s steadfast support of the bid. In his Wednesday speech to IOC members during the Sochi presentation, Putin went so far as to give a guarantee of “real snow” in the mountains above the Black Sea resort.
Just as importantly, Putin assuaged the primary concern about the Sochi bid by guaranteeing all 11 venues would be built. None exist today.
Putin left for Moscow before the result was announced, but his 36 hours in Guatemala obviously had the impact Sochi wanted.
“Putin being here was very important,” said French IOC member and former ski champion Jean-Claude Killy. “He worked very hard at it. He was nice. He spoke French -- he never speaks French. He spoke English -- he never speaks English.”
Russia athletes have been the leading medal winners at the Winter Olympics in the half-century since they have competed, first for the Soviet Union and then the Russian Republic.
“Russia has contributed a lot to the development of the Olympics and especially to winter sports,” Putin said during a Tuesday news conference with Guatemalan President Oscar Berger. “Unfortunately, we have never had the opportunity to host the Winter Olympics.”
No longer. Now the Games are going to a city with palm trees and a warm, humid climate that provides the catalyst for heavy snow in mountains only 25 miles away.
A Sochi victory will make many think the IOC’s gray eminence, former resident Juan Antonio Samaranch, still was wielding the clout he developed during a 20-year presidential reign that ended six years ago.
Samaranch, a Russophile since his days as Spain’s ambassador to the Soviet Union, ruled the IOC by decree and still has influence over the older IOC members.
Korea’s Samsung Corporation, one of the IOC’s global sponsors, loomed behind (and above) the Pyeongchang bid in many minds. The result either backed the Koreans’ assertion Samsung had done nothing untoward or showed that whatever lobbying Samsung did may have grated on IOC members.
Sochi saw the Winter Games as a way to build facilities in the Black Sea resort and nearby mountains that would serve both tourism and Russian athletes. Pyeongchang pushed the idea that a Winter Games in South Korea could serve the cause of reunification in the divided peninsula.
Philip Hersh covers the Olympics for The Times and the Chicago Tribune. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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A look at Sochi, Russia, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics:
* Population: 328,000.
* Number of venues: 11; the bid committee listed four of them as existing, but the IOC says they need so much work that they are essentially new construction.
* Projected cost: $1.517 billion.
* Main attractions: Compact plan puts all venues within 30 miles of each other. Sochi boasts extraordinary landscape incorporating subtropical beaches and soaring mountains.
* Drawbacks: An immense amount of construction will be required, including building a light-rail system and roads through harsh mountain terrain. Russia’s backsliding on democracy and increasingly bellicose foreign policy may make support politically awkward for many countries.
Source: Associated Press