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Russia Awarded Its First Winter Games

Associated Press
Thursday, July 5, 2007

GUATEMALA CITY, July 4 -- Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi was awarded the 2014 Olympics on Wednesday, rewarding President Vladimir Putin and taking the Winter Games to his country for the first time.

Sochi defeated the South Korean city of Pyeongchang, 51 to 47, in the final round of voting by the International Olympic Committee.

The Austrian resort of Salzburg was eliminated in the first round of the secret ballot.

Pyeongchang led the first round with 36 votes, followed by Sochi with 34 and Salzburg with 25. Sochi picked up 17 votes in the second round to secure the victory.

The result was a triumph for Putin, who put his international prestige on the line by coming to Guatemala to lobby IOC members and lead Sochi's final formal presentation. Putin had left by the time the result was announced by IOC President Jacques Rogge.

Russian delegates in the hall erupted in cheers, jumped to their feet and hugged each other. They unfurled a Russian flag and chanted "Sochi! Sochi!" Korean delegates bowed their heads, some in tears.

"It was a historic decision for all countries," Sochi bid chief Dmitry Chernychenko said. "Russia will become even more open, more democratic."

In Sochi, cheers erupted from the crowd of more than 15,000 that had gathered for a pop concert and the announcement in a main square.

"It is great. I've never been so happy in my life," said Marina Matveyeva, 23, who works in a bank. "It means that Russia has reached the level of Europe, and we can be proud of our country."

Russia, an Olympic power that has won 293 Winter Games medals, never has 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 United States-led boycott following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The Sochi bid won out over the appeals of its rivals -- Salzburg, presenting itself as a safe, no-risk winter sports mecca at the heart of Europe with world-class venues already in place; and Pyeongchang, offering the potential for peace and reconciliation on the divided Korean peninsula and promoting winter sports in Asia.

Ninety-seven IOC members were eligible to vote in the first round, with 95 casting valid ballots. Members from bidding countries are ineligible to vote as long as their cities remain in contention. With Salzburg out, 100 delegates were eligible in the second round, with 98 casting valid votes.

Putin's government has pledged $12 billion to develop Sochi into a world-class winter sports complex linking the palm-lined Black Sea coast -- the "Russian Riviera" -- to the soaring Caucasus Mountains nearby.

Putin, one of the world's most powerful figures, emphasized his commitment by making a rare formal presentation in English to the IOC. He 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 the site will have to be built largely from scratch, Putin assured, "We guarantee the Olympic cluster in Sochi will be completed on time.

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

Noting that athletes would have a short walk to their venues, Putin said, "Five minutes' walking distance, not bad."

It was the second straight first-round defeat for Salzburg, which also mounted a failed bid for the 2010 Winter Games, which went to Vancouver, B.C.

The Austrians were squeezed out by the political and economic might of the Russian and Korean bids.

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