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.
Alexei Nikolskiy, Ria Novosti, Kremlin/REUTERS
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."
Page 1 of 11