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Sochi Olympics: Putin's moment at world podium

Russia's leader, eager to burnish his legacy and boost the country's global standing, has risked a lot of prestige in staging the most expensive Olympics in history.


Russian President Vladimir Putin participated in a friendly ice hockey game near Sochi on Jan. 4. 'Putin's Games' is the subject of the cover story in the Feb. 3, 2014 issue of The Christian Science MonitorWeekly.

Alexei Nikolskiy, Ria Novosti, Kremlin/REUTERS

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Vladimir Putin was at the height of his powers, and his popularity, when he boarded his presidential plane to travel to Guatemala City on a July day almost seven years ago. He was bringing a carefully prepared pitch to put to a skeptical International Olympic Committee. It bespoke a key personal dream of his and a goal he hoped would secure his legacy and elevate Russia once again to a major world power.

Speaking in English, a language he'd been secretly studying, he pledged to transform the sleepy, Soviet-era Black Sea spa town of Sochi into a world-class Olympic venue in time for the winter Games of 2014. He pledged the staggering sum of $12 billion in Kremlin cash to make that happen – a bid that dwarfed the competing cities of Pyeongchang, South Korea, and Salzburg, Austria. When Sochi won, Mr. Putin was ebullient.

"This is ... not just a recognition of Russia's sporting achievements but it is, beyond any doubt, a judgment on our country," he said. "It is a recognition of our growing capability, first of all economically and socially."

Visitors to Sochi this month will discover that Putin's promises have been spectacularly fulfilled. The city now boasts a gleaming new airport, dozens of ultramodern stadiums and sports facilities, and a state-of-the-art media center. It has free high-speed Wi-Fi everywhere on the Olympic grounds, a new road and rapid-transit rail line hewn from the mountainside to link the subtropical coast with the alpine winter sports cluster, and rows of new luxury hotels.


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